Nashville's Ryan Suter is a big-time NHL defenseman, but doesn't get the press of his partner Shea Weber.(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
In every NHL post-season, relatively unknown players step up to help their teams win games and series. Their contributions don’t always come in the form of a game-winning goal or lead-preserving save, but coaches and teams appreciate the small things that help a team win big. Here are the Top 10 unsung heroes (so far) of the 2011 playoffs.
To win, the star-challenged Preds need all their role players to chip in; nobody has done so more than right winger Ward, who leads the team in goals (four) and points (seven).
There wasn’t much fanfare when Bolts GM Steve Yzerman acquired Brewer from St. Louis in February. However, Brewer has supplied the veteran blueline experience Tampa Bay needed entering the playoffs; he by far leads the team in time on ice (25:57 per game - nearly four minutes more than the next-most-utilized player, Victor Hedman, at 22:05) and brings calm to a blueline that needs it.
The Capitals rookie came on strong for Washington later in the regular season and continued to excel in the playoffs, netting two goals and six points to sit third in Caps scoring behind only Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin.
The subject of much derision over the past few years, Wellwood has quietly re-established himself as a defensively responsible third-liner and has amassed three assists and four points in San Jose’s eight playoff games.
A trade deadline acquisition, Higgins’ value has depreciated greatly in recent years, but he currently leads the Canucks with a pair of game-winning goals despite averaging a relatively modest 17:25 of ice time.
A defensive specialist for the Caps, Gordon has been the best faceoff man on the team in the playoffs, winning 68 of 100 puck-drops thus far. Contrast that with struggling Washington center Nicklas Backstrom (65 wins in 143 faceoffs for a 45.4 percentage) and you get even more of a sense of how vital Gordon’s play has been.
People expect Martin St-Louis and Vincent Lecavalier to contribute a lot to the Lightning’s offense. But nobody thought Bergenheim, who had been virtually invisible in parts of five seasons with the Islanders, would be tied with St-Louis and Lecavalier for the team’s lead in playoff goals (all three have five apiece).
Nichol has averaged just 7:05 of ice time in the playoffs, but he makes the most of it, acting as an agitator who suckers the opposition into drawing penalties. After he lured Kings star defenseman Drew Doughty into a roughing penalty in Game 4 and later drew a double-minor for high-sticking that led to a Sharks power play goal, Kings coach Terry Murray said “Give Nichol credit. He’s the reason why they won.”
Acquired from Ottawa in mid-February, Kelly has been a reliable foot soldier for Bruins coach Claude Julien and is tied for the team lead in playoff goals, with four.
Suter’s teammate Shea Weber gets a lot of the praise on the Preds blueline, but Suter has averaged nearly a full minute more of ice time per game (29:34) than Weber (28:45) and leads Nashville in assists (five). He has still only earned one third-star nod from THN these playoffs.
THN PUCK PANEL: UNSUNG PLAYOFF HEROES
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
If you enjoy this feature, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine for the exclusive countdown, Starting From 5, and other great features from the world of hockey.