Over the course of history in the Stanley Cup Playoffs there have always been unexpected heroes that stepped up and went beyond their normal production (not just points) to help their team advance to the next round, secure an upset or ultimately win the Stanley Cup. Growing up as a fan of the New Jersey Devils the first name that comes to mind was Jeff Friesen on the 2003 championship team. Friesen not only scored often, but his goals were timely; the bigger the stage got, the more pressure there was, he somehow found a way. On that team he was not the main scorer, he had 23 goals (4 GWG) in 81 regular games in his first season with the Devils and 10 goals (4 GWG) in 24 playoff games.
Again, it doesn’t always have to be point production, but it certainly goes a long way for sure and is an attention grabber. For example a lot of the New York Rangers gameplan in the first round will be focused on negating Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (smart move) — meaning that if Pittsburgh wants to survive and get to round two someone other than 87 and 71 will have to step up and be a difference maker…an X-Factor.
Today we will focus on the Eastern Conference teams and tomorrow you will be able to find the Western Conference edition at The Hockey Writers.
New York Rangers: Keith Yandle
Yandle was brought to the Rangers from the Arizona Coyotes for a hefty price the day before the trade deadline, solidifying an already formidable defense corps. Now is the time when we will judge if the trade was worth it or not for the Blueshirts; for the amount they gave up it’s Cup or bust (in my opinion). Yandle was a part of the ‘Yotes team that reached the West Finals in 2012 (nine points in 16 games), but this will be his first chance to get up close and personal with the likes of Crosby and Malkin over a seven-game series.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Brandon Sutter
Sutter did a nice job last postseason and finished the season strong — literally carrying the Pens to a playoff berth on the last night of the season. We almost went with David Perron here (he only has two career goals in 19 career playoff games all with the St. Louis Blues), but he will likely see action alongside one of the two big guns and Sutter will be the one that will need to step up if the team’s top lines cancel each other out. The entire defense group was another option, but Sutter is our pick.
Two goals + a puck to the face for Brandon Sutter in a must-win game= the stuff legends are made of:
Washington Capitals: Joel Ward
Back in his Nashville days Ward had 13 points in 12 playoff games under Barry Trotz (2011), who just happens to be his coach with the Caps now. The Islanders will pay a lot of attention to the dynamic duo of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, likely leaving Ward and Troy Brouwer (a close second) — guys who play in all situations — available to do some damage.
Joel Ward knows what it takes to be a hero in a Game 7:
New York Islanders: Anders Lee
Very easily this could be Johnny Boychuk or Nick Leddy, both of whose presences have solidified the Isles back end, allowing the forwards to be more effective and taking some of the pressure off of the younger blueliners. But with 25 goals in his rookie NHL season he could be the one that takes some of the scoring burden off of John Tavares and co. like he has all season; six game-winning goals is also a nice caveat on his stat line.
— NYI Hockey Now (@NYIHockeyNow) March 3, 2015
Montreal Canadiens: Brendan Gallagher
The playoffs are what Gallagher was built for; he’s feisty, gets in the heads of his opponents, he’s a pest and despite his smaller stature you can always find him in front of or around the goalie’s crease — or on top of him — or drawing a penalty. Will the Senators younger players be able to keep their cool and not get sucked into his Jedi Mind Tricks or nah? What effect will he have on the Hamburglar who will be making his NHL postseason debut?
Ottawa Senators: Andrew Hammond
The Hamburglar has taken the league by storm and generally I’d prefer not to pick a goalie for an X-Factor because they are just that pretty much every night (the most important position in sports IMO), but his career record is 20-1-2. Sooooooo yeah he’s kind of an X-Factor and if the Sens are able to beat the Habs he will steal a few games for sure.
Andrew Hammond has now beaten 17 (!!!!!!!) different NHL teams.. #Sens
— Callüm Fraser (@CallumFraser18) April 10, 2015
Tampa Bay Lightning: Ryan Callahan
The man formerly known as Captain Cally had a very quiet 54 points in the Bay, overshadowed by Steven Stamkos and the Triplets and Ben Bishop (who overshadows a lot of folks at 6’7”). Callahan also had 10 PPG this season, his first full season with the Lightning. He’s like Gallagher — a player built to play playoff hockey, willing to sacrifice his body for the team and able to play in all situations.
Detroit Red Wings: Marek Zidlicky
Like the aforementioned Yandle, Zidlicky was acquired at the trade deadline to add some defensive depth and a power play point man to his new squad. The Red Wings will need Zidlicky to anchor their PP unit as he has been doing — he had three goals (all on the PP) in 21 games since coming over from New Jersey after netting four (three on the PP) in 63 games with the Devils. The veteran d-man will really be an X-Factor if he can stay out of the penalty box (#SinBinZid). The 38-year-old played some of his best hockey in the Devils run to the Finals in 2012 and Detroit will be looking for a similar performance in order to advance.
Marek Zidlicky can score from the point, or from the slot:
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.