Heroes, sometimes even careers, are born during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Certain players just have a penchant for stepping up when the games matter most. That ability to raise their level and become difference-makers for their teams is what separates the men from the boys. Not everybody has that extra gear, not everybody is capable of entering ‘beast’ mode. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going — and the beasts come out to play.
A handful of names immediately come to mind as fitting that description from the first round of this year’s post-season. Evgeni Malkin is not one of them, having went pointless in Pittsburgh’s early exit. David Backes and T.J. Oshie were duds for St. Louis, while Kevin Bieksa proved to be the irrelevant one in that Vancouver-Calgary series.
These guys, much to the contrary, were the biggest beasts:
Micheal Ferland (F Calgary)
He not only ran Bieksa out of the building, making him eat his words, but also scored twice in the series-clincher to reach legendary status on the Red Mile. The upstart Flames rode Ferland’s energy and physicality to victory over an aging Vancouver team that had no answer for this fiery sparkplug. It was quite a coming-out party for the 23-year-old former fifth-round pick with only 2 goals and 26 regular-season games on his resume prior to the series opener. Ferland wouldn’t have been in Calgary’s lineup if not for a late-season injury to Lance Bouma, but by the end of the opening round, he was drawing favourable comparisons to Boston’s Milan Lucic. Check out more of Ferland’s impact in this mash-up.
#Flames Bob Hartley: "There's a sign in Bridgeland, close to my house, that Mayor Nenshi is in trouble. There's a sign — Ferland for Mayor."
— Wes Gilbertson (@WesGilbertson) April 27, 2015
Ryan Kesler (F Anaheim)
He took matters into his own hands to eliminate the Jets and ensure the Winnipeg Whiteout was short-lived this spring. Kesler embraced the hate and became the ultimate villain by netting 2 third-period goals to secure Anaheim’s sweep. He forced overtime in Game 3, then delivered the final dagger by scoring what stoop up as the winner in Game 4. Unlike Bieksa, his former teammate, Kesler talked the talk, then went out and walked the walk.
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) April 23, 2015
Henrik Lundqvist (G N.Y. Rangers)
For the second straight year, he shut the door on the NHL’s most potent offence, this time only needing five games to assert his dominance and send the Penguins packing. All four New York wins were 2-1 decisions, with Lundqvist stopping a combined 92 of 96 shots in those triumphs. He limited Sidney Crosby to just 2 goals and prevented Malkin from even reaching the scoresheet. It was an impressive goaltending display, especially for a guy who had to overcome a scary injury late in the season.
— JustinBrannan (@JustinBrannan) April 21, 2015
Duncan Keith (D Chicago)
He’s like the Energizer bunny come playoffs, he just keeps going and going. Keith leads all skaters in average ice time after the first round — at 32 minutes 3 seconds per game — and he logged an amazing 46:19 in Chicago’s triple-overtime win in Game 4. No other Blackhawks player topped the 40-minute mark in that epic contest, which was eventually won by Brent Seabrook’s point shot. But it was Keith who scored arguably Chicago’s biggest goal, the double-OT winner in the series opener at Nashville, as the Blackhawks rallied from a 3-0 deficit for a 4-3 victory. He also scored the last goal of that series, netting what stood up as the winner in Game 6. The scary thing is, last year’s Norris winner likely has plenty of gas left in his tank.
— NHL (@NHL) April 26, 2015
Tyler Johnson (F Tampa Bay)
Call him mini-beast! The undrafted forward who has blossomed into an elite regular-season talent over the last two years is now making a name for himself in the playoffs. Johnson really rose to the occasion by scoring 6 goals — the most among those advancing to the second round, and tied for the playoff lead. He was the X factor against Detroit with young goalie Petr Mrazek and the Red Wings shutting down Steven Stamkos, who shockingly did not score a single goal in the first round.
— NHL (@NHL) April 28, 2015
Zach Parise (F Minnesota)
Mr. Minnesota put the so-called State of Hockey on his back in lifting the Wild to a first-round victory over St. Louis. Parise netted 3 goals, including 2 in the series clincher, where he opened the scoring with a shorthanded effort to send the home crowd into a frenzy. But he was good from start to finish, leading by example on and off the scoresheet throughout the six games.
Two goals in the biggest game of the year for Zach Parise. He's feelin' it. pic.twitter.com/T2y4by5SJP
— NHL (@NHL) April 27, 2015
Jonathan Toews (F Chicago)
Can we just go ahead and declare him the best leader in hockey today? No offence to Crosby — now wearing the ‘C’ for Canada at the world championship — but Toews is Captain Clutch. He’s leading the playoffs in scoring with 8 points, including 3 goals, and he put those numbers up against Pekka Rinne and Nashville’s stingy defence, though Predators captain Shea Weber was injured in Game 2 and never returned. Toews would have been No. 1 on this list, if not for the fact that we’ve come to expect these heroics from him.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 26, 2015
Devan Dubnyk (G Minnesota)
The unlikeliest of Vezina candidates proved he’s not just a one-hit, regular-season wonder. The Blues raised that doubt by lighting him up in a 6-1 trouncing to even the series heading back to St. Louis. Ken Hitchcock opened his big yap and spouted off to expect more of the same, but Dubnyk shut him up with a 36-save, first-star performance in Game 5 as the Wild forged ahead. Dubnyk had to settle for second-star honours in the clincher — behind Parise — but he delivered again with 31 saves as Minnesota advanced thanks to consecutive 4-1 wins.
— NHL (@NHL) April 21, 2015
Vladimir Tarasenko (F St. Louis)
At least somebody was scoring for the Blues, with this breakout star tied for the playoff lead with 6 goals, including a hat trick and perhaps the nicest finish of the first round. Patrik Berglund was his only teammate with more than 1 goal, and he managed just 2. Tarasenko can at least hold his head high this off-season, while taking a ton of momentum into next season where he’ll look to solidify himself as a top-10 scorer.
Vladamir Tarasenko: 10 Goals/12 career playoff games; ELIAS: 1st player with 10+ goals in his 1st 12 career playoff games since John Druce
— Bucci Mane (@Buccigross) April 26, 2015
Filip Forsberg (F Nashville)
On the day he was snubbed as a finalist for the Calder Trophy, Forsberg made an emphatic statement by scoring his first career hat trick, which also happened to be the first in Predators playoff history. On the strength of that performance, he led Nashville with 6 points in as many games, but it wasn’t enough against veteran-laden Chicago. Not to worry, the future is bright for Forsberg.
Pavel Datsyuk (F Detroit)
Next to Johnson, he was the best player in that series, producing a vintage performance on the heels of another injury-plagued campaign. While captain Henrik Zetterberg was held scoreless — like his Tampa counterpart, Stamkos — Datsyuk bulged the twine 3 times and even had 3 shots in Game 7 to give Detroit every opportunity to prevail.
NHL players in awe of 'Magic Man' Pavel Datsyuk http://t.co/0Yw922rr94
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 28, 2015
Scott Darling (G Chicago)
This feel-good story might be taking a backseat to Corey Crawford in the second round again, but Darling deserves full props for getting the Blackhawks to this point. The Chicago native came off the bench down 3-0 in Game 1 and came through with the single most impressive performance of the first round, stopping all 42 shots he faced in that improbable 4-3 overtime victory. Chicago went back to Crawford for Game 2 and lost, before handing the reins to Darling, who backstopped the Blackhawks to home-ice wins in Games 3 and 4, the latter of which he made 50 saves and was named first star. Talk about living the dream. But Darling allowed seven goals over the next two games and was pulled for Crawford in the clincher, as Chicago scored another come-from-behind 4-3 victory.
— Melanie Collins (@Melanie_Collins) April 30, 2015
Corey Perry (F Anaheim)
He totally took over the third period of Game 1, scoring the tying and winning goals in a 4-point epitome of beast mode. That set the tone for the series as the Ducks mounted third-period comebacks in the first three games en route to sweeping the Jets. Kesler’s line did most the damage in the latter games, but Perry definitely did his part from the outset.
— Sergei Enigmatov (@Pitty_Da_Fool) April 22, 2015
Dale Weise (F Montreal)
He’s a gamer when it comes to the big games and single-handedly gave the Habs a stranglehold on the series by scoring both Montreal’s goals in a 2-1 overtime win in Game 3. Those were his only 2 points of the series, but, boy, were they huge in the big picture. His winner spelled the end of Andrew Hammond in Ottawa’s goal — for these playoffs and potentially forever. If Ottawa wins that game at home, it’s a different series and perhaps the Senators pull off the upset. Weise was also a physical presence throughout, something he’s better known for after getting under Lucic’s skin a few years ago.
Montreal Canadiens' Dale Weise was the overtime hero in Game 3: A closer look … – National Post http://t.co/dKY3lzkBTJ
— Montreal Report (@MontrealReport1) April 21, 2015
Adam Lowry (F Winnipeg)
He tied for the team lead in playoff scoring, albeit with only 3 points, including 2 assists. But Lowry’s effort was reminiscent of his dad Dave’s back in the day — minus the fiery red beard. If the Jets ever go a run, Adam might be able to bring that out of retirement too. For a kid that wasn’t even penciled into Winnipeg’s opening-night roster, Lowry exceeded all expectations this season and was imposing his will by the time playoffs rolled around. Now, it’s fairly obvious that he’ll be a pro for a long time to come.
Adam Lowry didn't put up the points of other high profile rookies, but he had a tremendous impact on the Jets season. Bright future.
— Tim Hiebert (@TimJHiebert) April 24, 2015
Did I miss anybody? Is my order all wrong? Feel free to join in the conversation by leaving a comment below.
Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.