March 5, 2013 by The Hockey Daily
Every so often in the Stanley Cup playoffs a team comes out of nowhere and unexpectedly goes to the finals. Every team to accomplish this feat has one thing in common – THE HERO. Before speculating on who this year’s heroes could be I will eliminate the obvious favourites. If the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks or Los Angeles Kings go to the finals no one will be surprised. I threw in Vancouver because they have been in the mix for a while and although they haven’t had a great season the core makeup of their team was in the finals two years ago. The other five are obvious.
A look back at some of hockey’s playoff heroes.
The rocket that almost landed the Vancouver Canucks a Stanely Cup. In 1994 the Canucks finished 7th in the Western Conference earning themselves a first round matchup with an experienced Calgary Flames team that consisted of many notable players in the prime of their careers. The Canucks won that legendary first round match up in seven games on an OT goal by the 1994 playoff hero Pavel Bure.
The Canucks went on a tear after Bure’s classic OT winner. Throughout their magical run The Russian Rocket was almost unstoppable while the rest of the Canucks stepped up and supported his scoring efforts with gritty play and determination. Bure had 16 goals and 15 assists for 31 points in the 24 playoff games he played in 94.
When one man dominated the entire Eastern Conference playoffs. The year was 1999 and the Buffalo Sabres squeaked into the playoffs in the number seven slot. Their first round opponent was an up and coming but inexperienced Ottawa Senators’ squad. The Sabres weren’t intimidated by the upstart Sens one bit. They won the series in four quick games.
The Sabres kept on winning round after round until they found themselves in the Stanley Cup finals against the heavily favoured Dallas Stars. Hasek’s numbers were incredible throughout the magical run. He posted a 1.77 GAA, .939 Save Percentage and two shutouts. In the end it was a play directly involving Hasek that ended the Sabres’ dream to hoist their first Cup in franchise history when Stars’ forward, NHL Hall Of Famer Brett Hull scored one of the most controversial goals in hockey history.
Let’s take a look at the potential heroes.
If you are a Habs fan you may be wondering why I didn’t include them as a favourite. I chose not to because they weren’t expected to do this well and they still aren’t getting much respect in the mainstream media as a Cup contender. But let’s be honest, the Habs look good. And the Habs have one player that could realistically be this year’s hero.
Carey Price can win games but can he win 16 games in the Spring? Logic tells me yes he can. Carey Price is one of the premiere players in the league and arguably the best goaltender the world. Arguably. If this is one of those years where the favourites aren’t all they are cracked up to be then Carey Price is a leading candidate to lead a charge all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Just to throw a quick anniversary out there, this is the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens last Stanley Cup victory.
The King without a crown. If Price is capable there is one other goalie that could accomplish the same, and his name is Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. The Rangers entered this season as favourites to finish at the top of the Eastern Conference standings but that is no longer a possibility. The New York Rangers have way too many similarities to last season’s champs the Los Angeles Kings which makes them a serious threat to go the distance. And with King Henrik in net the sky is the limit. Henrik’s got a long run in him at some point. Is it this season?
If anyone is good enough to carry a team on his back it is Claude Giroux. He is one of the most sure bet elite players in the league and if his Flyers make the playoffs he’s the number one reason most teams will not want to play them. They’ve had an off year but they are still very young. What makes the Flyers dangerous is that they’re the Philadelphia Flyers and they have a rich history of competing for Stanley Cups. If the so called Big 2 in the East disappoint the critics who have basically handed them a spot in the finals there’s a good chance Claude Giroux could have something to do with it.
Oh would it be crazy if Alexander Ovechkin pulled a Pavel Bure. Ovechkin is exactly the type of generational talent that you expect to at least get one crack at the Stanley Cup. It’s a simple numbers game that players who win the Art Ross or Hart Trophy make the Stanley Cup finals at least once in their career. Since 1981 only two Art Ross winners have never played in a Stanley Cup final and their names are Alex Ovechkin and Joe Thornton. Since 1960 only three Hart trophy winners have never played in the Stanley Cup finals, Ovechkin being one of them of course. Simply based on the odds of a great player making a Stanley Cup final Ovechkin should get there at some point. Maybe it’s this year? The Caps are getting hot at the right time and that has been exactly what it takes in recent years.
Hey Joe, where you going with that Cup in your hand? Much like OV, Joe Thornton is one of the rare superstars to win the Art Ross and Hart Trophy but never play in the Stanley Cup finals. The Sharks are 5th in the West and look to make the playoffs again this season with a young team that could surprise anyone. It’s been a couple years since anyone considered the Sharks a top Cup contender due to many underachieving playoff performances, but this year anything could happen. Thornton is still capable of being a difference maker in this league. Maybe this is the year Joe Thornton dominates the NHL playoffs and gets the Sharks to their first Stanley Cup final.
He’s almost done it before and he could very well do it again. In 2002-03 Marian Gaborik led the Minnesota Wild all the way to the conference finals on 9 goals and 8 assists in 18 games. Gabby and the Wild were close but not good enough to outdo another playoff hero, J S Giguere of the Anaheim Ducks (known as the Mighty Ducks). Gaborik is a highly skilled scoring machine when he’s on, and if he’s on this playoffs with the way Bobrovsky is playing it could be he who plays the part of hero.
Oilers fans would love to see this one, and as a fan of hockey so would I. If the Oilers get in this year there are a few talented players in their lineup that could be difference makers in the playoffs, but one really stands out and his name is Taylor Hall. The former 1st overall pick is establishing himself as one of the game’s elite this season with outstanding offensive numbers. Taylor has 13 goals, 28 assists for 41 points in only 34 games. Every Oilers fan expects at least one good run out of their young stars at some point. Many fans are expecting a few solid attempts at the Cup from Hall and the gang. This could be the year Taylor Hall plays playoff hero all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.
In the case of Pavel Bure and Domink Hasek there are some similarities. Both their teams finished 7th in their conference and both franchises have never won a Stanley Cup. Candidates to finish seventh with no Cup wins are the Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators, Washington Capitals in the East and Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators in the West.
Leave a comment and tell us who you think will be this year’s playoff hero.