The 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs continue tonight with the Eastern Conference teams getting their first attempt at moving one step closer to the Stanley Cup Finals. Here are five American-related storylines to watch this postseason in the Eastern Conference.
Kessel Gets Opportunity to Face Former Squad
Toronto fans have gone back and forth over the 2009 trade that brought Phil Kessel to the Maple Leafs for two first-round draft picks and a second-round pick. Those picks ended up producing current Bruins Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton as well as prospect Jared Knight.
Since then the Bruins have won the 2011 Stanley Cup while Toronto has floundered in the basement of the Eastern Conference.
Now, Kessel will have his chance to convince Toronto naysayers that he was worth the deal when the Maple Leafs and Bruins faceoff in the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Kessel, the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, led American players in the Eastern Conference with 20 goals and 32 assists this season. The Madison, Wis. native has been one of the most consistent American goal scorers in the game, posting four 30-plus goal seasons in a row, but our friends north of the border crave for postseason success.
It is something Kessel has yet to deliver, but he now finally has his chance.
Ironically, it starts with getting past his former team.
Does Craig Anderson's Run Continue?
Craig Anderson was by far the best goaltender in the National Hockey League before going down with a sprained ankle that caused the Ottawa Senators goalie to miss 19 games.
Anderson has since returned to the Senators and appears to have regained his form. Ottawa will absolutely need Anderson to be at his best when the seventh-seeded Senators take on the No. 2 Montreal Canadiens.
The 6-foot-2 goalie finished the season with a 12-9-2 record in 24 games, but had a league-best 1.69 goals against average and a .941 save percentage to make up for a dawdling offensive unit.
Anderson has a .933 save percentage in 13 previous playoff games and will be relied upon to carry the Senators, who are averaging only 2.33 goals per game, if they wish to embark on a postseason run.
If Anderson can string together a long postseason run for Ottawa he may be able to sneak his name into the conversation for who should start between the pipes for Team USA at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
Derek Stepan Evolving into an American Star
Derek Stepan has quietly risen through the ranks of American players and blossomed into one of the top American centers in the game.
This year, the 6-foot-0, 196-pounder had a career-year with 18 goals, including six game winners, and 26 assists in the lockout-shortened season for the New York Rangers. But beyond the score sheet, Stepan improved his defensive game and finished the regular season with a plus-25 rating, fifth best in the league, and won the second most faceoffs (448) among Americans.
The 22-year-old Stepan has surprisingly become one of the Rangers top offensive players and New York will rely upon the Minnesota native this postseason at both ends of the ice. Stepan had a goal and eight assists in 20 postseason appearances last year.
Stepan has proved he is not shy of the big stage either, as he had four goals and 10 assists during Team USA's World Junior Championship gold medal run in 2010.
The Late Bloomer
It took Colin McDonald six years to get his opportunity in a full-time role at the NHL level, but now that he has tasted the fruits of his labor with the New York Islanders he does not plan on turning back.
McDonald, a 2003 second-round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers, has provided the Islanders with scoring and stability as a valuable member of its third and fourth lines. In 45 games the power forward produced seven goals and 10 assists. He also had 120 hits.
Prior to joining the Islanders, McDonald was a career minor leaguer with only five games in the NHL.
The Wethersfield, Conn. native will be making his NHL postseason debut tonight, as is fellow American Kyle Okposo, and a strong postseason performance can help solidify McDonald's place at the NHL level.
Blue Line Reinforcements
Pittsburgh Penguin fans will tell you they are all anticipating the return of the sensational Sidney Crosby. But it will take more then Crosby to lead the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Martin returned to the Penguins with two assists during their season-finale victory over Carolina after missing 13 games with a broken thumb. The 32-year-old will bring a veteran presence to the Penguins blue line after appearing in 52 career playoff games.
Orpik did not play in the Pens' final two games of the season and is out with an undisclosed injury. It is unclear when Orpik will return, but Pittsburgh could use the Stanley Cup champion and his 75 games of postseason experience.