The unsung playoff heroes of the NHL
It is not always the superstars who make the biggest impact in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Sometimes it is the depth player, the backup goalie or the forgotten trade deadline acquisition who is the difference between winning and losing. We celebrate those players here, as we take a look back at the most unsung heroes in Stanley Cup Playoff history.
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Roloson made only four playoff appearances in his 14-year NHL career, but he made the most of them. During the 2003 playoffs he helped backstop a third-year expansion team, the Minnesota Wild, on a stunning run to the Western Conference Final. Three years later he played the best hockey of his career to backstop a No. 8 seed Edmonton Oilers to a stunning first-round upset over the Detroit Red Wings, and then he carried them to the Stanley Cup Final where they might have won had he not been injured. Then in 2011 he was the driving force behind the Tampa Bay Lightning’s run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, which they lost by the narrowest of margins, 1-0. He may not have always made it to the playoffs, but when he did he was a factor.
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Dave Sandford, Getty
Bolland was never the biggest star on the Blackhawks team that won Stanley Cups in 2010 and 2013, but he was still a significant part due to his defensive play and clutch moments. During the 2010 run he scored eight goals, including two shorthanded, as the Blackhawks ended their Stanley Cup drought that went all the way back to 1961. He had what was perhaps his biggest moment in 2013 when he scored the Cup-clinching goal with less than a minute to play in Game 6, capping off an incredible rally that saw Chicago score two goals in 16 seconds. He scored only 85 goals in 433 regular-season games but scored 17 in 67 career playoff games.
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B Bennett, Getty
You may not remember the name John Druce, and you are forgiven if you don’t. He only scored 113 goals in 531 games. But during one magical postseason run in 1990, he was as good as any other player in the world, scoring 14 goals in 15 games for the Washington Capitals. That total was a franchise record that stood until the 2017-18 season when Alex Ovechkin topped it during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup.
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Kirby Lee, Getty
Fedotenko played a key role in two different Stanley Cup-winning teams during his career. His most notable moment came during the 2004 Stanley Cup Final when he scored two goals in a 2-1 Game 7 win for the Lightning in their cup-clinching win over the Calgary Flames. He finished that postseason with 12 goals and was a key role player in their success. Five years later, he did it again for the Pittsburgh Penguins when he scored seven goals in their 2009 Stanley Cup run that concluded with an upset win over the Detroit Red Wings.
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Bruce Bennett, Getty
Playing on a team that has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, it is easy for every other center on the roster to get lost in the shadows. But during the 2015 and 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Nick Bonino briefly stole the show by scoring some absolutely massive goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2015 he centered the team’s HBK line alongside Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel, a trio that was often times a difference maker for the team. He scored the series-clinching overtime goal in Round 2 against the Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals and then netted a late game-winning goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks.
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Bruce Bennett, Getty
Part of the Red Wings’ famous “Grind Line” in the 1990s, McCarty never put up huge playoff numbers, but he was definitely a part of some significant moments. He had a hat trick during the 2002 Western Conference Finals against the Colorado Avalanche and also scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal for the Red Wings in 1997 with one of the most beautiful playoff goals you will ever see when he embarrassed Janne Niinimaa and Ron Hextall of the Philadelphia Flyers.
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Gregg Forwerck, Getty
Wallin spent 11 unremarkable years in the NHL, mostly on the Carolina Hurricanes blue line. He was never known for his offense but still managed to make a significant impact in the postseason by scoring three overtime goals during his career. He scored only four playoff goals total. One of those overtime winners came during the team’s 2006 Stanley Cup-winning season in a Round 1 over the New Jersey Devils.
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B Bennett, Getty
Morrow was a rock on the Islanders blue line during their 1980s dynasty, but he was known more for his defensive play than his offense. In 550 regular-season games over his career, he managed just 17 total goals. He scored 11 in only 127 playoff games, including three overtime-winning goals.
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Klima’s claim to fame in the NHL is ending Game 1 of the 1990 Stanley Cup Final early in the third overtime to help the Edmonton Oilers, one year after trading Wayne Gretzky, win their fifth Stanley Cup in seven years. Klima was never a star, but 28 goals in 95 career playoff games, including a Cup Final game-winner, is a pretty solid resume builder.
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Katherine Lotze, Getty
Throughout the 2017-18 season, Smith-Pelly was an afterthought for the Washington Capitals. He signed a one-year, bargain bin contract and scored only seven goals in 75 regular-season games — not the player you would expect to play a huge role in the playoffs. All he ended up doing was matching his regular-season goal total in 24 playoffs games, including three goals in the Stanley Cup Final series against the Vegas Golden Knights. His last goal tied the Capitals’ Game 5 win late in the third period, setting the stage for Brett Connolly’s game-winner.
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Bonin won four Stanley Cups in the 1950s, including three with one of the great Montreal Canadiens dynasties. Even though he is not one of the names you will remember from that era, he is one of the biggest reasons the Canadiens won the Cup in 1959. It was during that postseason that Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau were both injured, limited to just three games each, setting the stage for Bonin, of all people, to emerge as the playoffs leading goal scorer. His 10 goals in 11 games carried the Canadiens to the Cup and forever made him a significant, if still forgotten, part of the team’s history.
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Zoran Millich, Getty
The 1996 Florida Panthers were one of the most stunning Stanley Cup Final teams ever. They were in only their third year of existence and pulled off two improbable upsets in the Eastern Conference playoffs, knocking out the Legion of Doom Philadelphia Flyers team and then shutting down a Pittsburgh Penguins team that boasted three of the league’s top four scorers that season. They ultimately met their match in the Final against the Colorado Avalanche, losing in four straight games, but they never would have made it that far without the offense of… Dave Lowry?! While the star of that team was goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, Lowry emerged as the Panthers’ top scorer in the playoffs with 10 goals and 17 total points in 22 games. He scored just 10 and 24 total points during the entire regular season.
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Len Redkoles, Getty
When Leino first joined the NHL, he was supposed to be a star. It never quite worked out for him in any of his stops in the league, outside of one two-month stretch with the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2010 playoffs where he lived up to all of the hype. It was during that run that he averaged more than a point per game (21 points in 19 games) and was one of the biggest reasons the team reached the Stanley Cup Final. The Flyers ended up losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, but Leino was a big reason they even had a chance.
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Mike Powell, Getty
The 1988-89 season was Wayne Gretzky’s first with the Los Angeles Kings, and in Round 1 they beat Gretzky’s former team, the Edmonton Oilers, knocking them off their throne as Stanley Cup champions. But it wasn’t Gretzky who did most of the damage offensively: It was little-used forward Chris Kontos. Kontos ended the 1989 playoffs with nine goals, leading all Kings players (including Gretzky). At that point in his career he had scored just 25 totals in 200 NHL games. The Kings’ run would eventually come to an end in Round 2 against the Calgary Flames, but they never would have made it that far if not for the play of Kontos.