Five sneaky X-factor players to watch in the Stanley Cup final

Brian Boyle

The fun part about waiting three days for the Stanley Cup final to start: it gives us tale-of-the-tape time. We can break down the series from every possible angle, deconstructing it like it’s The Bachelorette the Super Bowl and working ourselves into a frenzy of hype.

Delving deep into the matchup means looking beyond the obvious stars. Who are some lesser-known or underperforming commodities who could quietly shift the balance of the Stanley Cup final? Here are five to watch.

TANNER PEARSON, KINGS

A pattern of underestimation follows Pearson through his career. He was passed over in the 2011 draft, upped his game and became a first-rounder a year later. The Kings didn’t use him in their first two playoff contests this spring, both losses to the Sharks, but added him for Game 3. Pearson has been in the lineup for all 12 L.A. wins and the rookie was huge against Chicago in the Conference final, picking up six points. Not bad for the “other guy” on the dynamite line featuring Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli. Pearson is fresh and playing with more confidence than ever.

BRIAN BOYLE, RANGERS

In my opinion, Drew Doughty is the best player on either team in the Stanley Cup final. He dominates the play at both ends of the ice and controls the flow of a game. The Rangers have to soften Doughty up with brute force if they want to level the playing field and contend in this series, and Brian Boyle is the blunt tool they should use to do so. He’s a 6-foot-7, 244-pound monster who bludgeons on the forecheck and pisses opponents off. That latter point is relevant considering Doughty’s emotions can get the better of him at times.

ROBYN REGEHR, KINGS

What if Regehr’s injury was a blessing? He skipped the wear and tear of a vicious seven-game war against Chicago and has a shot at returning for the final. His nastiness would be a welcome addition to a Kings blueline facing a scrappy brigade of Ranger forwards. Los Angeles has won a lot with offense in the playoffs, but will have to win ugly sometimes against New York. Regehr is up to that task if he’s healthy enough to play.

RICK NASH, RANGERS

How can Rick Nash qualify as an under-the-radar role player in the final? He’s been that “bad.” Or, at least, he hasn’t scored much. The Rangers have been Henrik Lundqvist’s team, Martin St-Louis’ team, Ryan McDonagh’s team, but hardly Nash’s this post-season. But Nash hasn’t been nearly as bad as his poor scoring numbers indicate. He leads the Rangers in shots for the playoffs and he’s been effective in more of a two-way role, working hard on the backcheck and killing penalties. When he’s hot, he can still overwhelm opposing defensemen, and all those shots started going in against Montreal in round 3. A “hot” Nash would play a significant role in the final.

ALEC MARTINEZ, KINGS

Martinez quietly had 11 goals in the regular season and he’s maintained that knack for finding the net in the playoffs, as he demonstrated with a seeing-eye goal to win Game 7 of the Western Conference in overtime. He has the best Fenwick Close and is tied for the best Corsi Close rating of any King in the playoffs. Even if he’s insulated with relatively easy matchups, the puck spends a lot of time in the other team’s end when Martinez is on the ice.

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin