For every team contending in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, Game 4 was the only game to see no overtime from any team. Although no games had gone into the fourth period during these two days, this year’s postseason has seen an abundance of overtime already.
By the time Game 5 was over last year, only six games had gone into overtime. This year, there have been 16. Every playoff team has played into overtime at least once, and that goes to show how talented these contenders truly are…even those eliminated right away. The reasons why so many games have gone into overtime could be debated for days, but the reality is that there are many contributing factors—one of the biggest ones being the role that defensemen are playing in this day and age of playoff hockey.
Defensemen are quickly becoming the biggest game changers in the league. Their contribution to front-end puck possession, maintenance of play in the offensive zone and increasing curiosity between the hash marks illustrates the various responsibilities they’re given. Obviously, the role of goalies can’t be undervalued either, and we all know how important they are when it comes to winning games, regardless of defense or a lack thereof.
Unlike goalies, though, defensemen have the ability to score—unless you’re goaltending for the OHL’s Peterborough Petes and your name is Dylan Wells, that is. In his third season of goaltending for the Petes, Wells scored his first career goal in an open net a couple of weeks ago.
On the very rare occasion, goalies can score, but it’s not a recommended tactic by any means. Instead, NHL teams like the St. Louis Blues, the Anaheim Ducks, and the Edmonton Oilers are using their blueliners in more ways than one, and one of these ways includes scoring. In fact, there are five defensemen in particular who’ve played crucial scoring roles in this year’s playoffs and if it weren’t for them, things could have turned out a lot differently for the teams they play for.
Playoffs, OT & Scoring Defensemen
Below are five of the most important goals scored by defensemen in this year’s run for the Stanley Cup, in chronological order.
No. 1: Joel Edmundson
In Game 1 of the St. Louis Blues’ first-round series against the Minnesota Wild on April 12, 2017, 23-year-old defenseman Joel Edmundson scored the game-winning goal for the Blues in overtime, beating the Wild 2-1.
Edmundson was drafted in 2011 during the second round at No. 46 and this was only his second career playoff goal. He scored again two days later, and the St. Louis Blues have since won the first-round series in the western conference. Now they’ll face the Nashville Predators in the second round.
No. 2: Morgan Rielly
In Game 2 of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-round series against the Washington Capitals on April 15, 2017, Leafs’ defenseman Morgan Rielly scored in the second period, giving Toronto a 3-2 lead. Although the Capitals went on to score again in the third period to tie the game at 3-3, the Leafs would eventually score the game-winning goal in the second overtime period.
Rielly was drafted in 2012 at No. 5 by the Toronto Maple Leafs and played junior hockey with Edmundson for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors from 2010-11 to 2012-13. Both served as alternate captains in their final season and it’s no surprise that both are playing such crucial roles in the NHL at this point in their pro careers.
No. 3: Dion Phaneuf
In Game 2 of the Ottawa Senators first-round series against the Boston Bruins on April 15, 2017, Senators defenseman Dion Phaneuf scored the game-winning goal in the first overtime period, making the final score 4-3.
Rifled. Sealed. Done.
— NHL (@NHL) April 15, 2017
Phaneuf was drafted in 2003 at No. 9 by the Calgary Flames and spent four seasons playing for the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels, serving as alternate captain during his final year. He also represented Team Canada at the 2004 and 2005 World Juniors, scoring three goals throughout 12 games.
This was Phaneuf’s seventh career playoff goal out of a total of 34 playoff games. The Senators will face the Boston Bruins Sunday for Game 6 and if they win, they’ll advance to the second round of the Eastern Conference to face the New York Rangers.
No. 4: Shea Theodore
In Game 3 of the Anaheim Ducks first-round series against the Calgary Flames on April 17, 2017, Ducks defenseman Shea Theodore scored with four minutes left in the third period, tying the game at 4-4. The Ducks’ Corey Perry would go on to score the game-winning goal during the first overtime period.
The 21-year-old was drafted in 2013 by the Anaheim Ducks at No. 26 and scored his first two career playoff goals during this game. Before playing in the NHL, Theodore played for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds from 2011-12 to 2014-15, serving as team captain during his final season. He also served as one of the alternate captains during the 2013-14 season and represented Team Canada at the 2013 and 2015 World Juniors.
Theodore’s knack for scoring became evident in his second year playing in the WHL, ranking fourth in the league in scoring (for defensemen), with 19 goals in 71 regular season games. By 2013-14, he led the WHL in points for defensemen and third in scoring, with 22 goals in 70 games.
No. 5: Oscar Klefbom
In Game 5 of the Edmonton Oilers first-round series against the San Jose Sharks on April 20, 2017, Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom scored in the third period, tying the game at 3-3.
This was the 23-year-old Swedish blueliner’s fifth career playoff game and second playoff goal. Drafted in 2011 at No. 19 by the Edmonton Oilers, Klefbom spent three seasons playing in the SHL before advancing to the NHL. He represented team Sweden at the 2011 and 2012 World Juniors and served as team captain in 2011.
Throughout recent seasons, we’ve witnessed the role of defensemen evolve into one that encompasses more than one way of playing. In the last decade of playoff hockey, no first round has seen this many games go into overtime by Game 5, and defensemen have indeed been one of the biggest reasons for evening up the score and also deciding the game. NHL coaches are becoming increasingly reliant on these kinds of blueliners to move pucks, make plays and score the most important goals of all. As these teams move deeper into the playoffs, we can be sure to see more goals scored by the league’s most trusted defensemen.