Unsung hero will emerge

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

What blooms for two months every spring in the most unlikely places, yet can't be planted or picked?

The answer to this horticultural hockey riddle is potted at the end of every bench of the 16 National Hockey League post-season qualifiers. When the warm weather arrives and television lights go on coast to coast, an unlikely playoff hero will emerge.

"The eyes of the hockey world are suddenly upon you," said broadcaster and former NHL coach Harry Neale. "I thought we had a whole team of unsung heroes in Vancouver the year we made it to the final against the Islanders (1982). I don't know why it happens, but if these same players could get hot for a 10 or 20-game stretch in the regular season, then they wouldn't be unsung."

Goaltenders such as Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden made their names as playoff stoppers, but more often than not, it's the checkers who thrive.

"You play one role all year and you don't always get to show your skills," said Jacques Demers, coach of the '93 Habs. "How can you forget what guys like Mike Keane and Guy Carbonneau did for us?"

That Canadiens team won 10 overtime games and Carbonneau had two of the big goals.

NO PRESSURE

"I've always believed the guys who excel at great moments are the ones who just keep doing the same things," said Leafs' Mike Peca, who had a memorable run of his own in the 1999 playoffs with Buffalo. "They don't succumb to pressures or anything like that. The playoffs are all about momentum and if any player is able to grab that, the games come in such short (48-hour) time periods."

"There always seems to be that one guy who makes noise in playoffs and I'm sure it will be no different this year."

One of the most famous playoff outbursts was by Washington Capitals plumber John Druce in 1990. He was put on a line with Dale Hunter and Geoff Courtnall strictly to do spade work and ended up bagging 14 goals in 15 games, throwing every playoff pool out of whack.

"The checkers such as Druce and Chris Kontos (nine goals in 11 games for the Kings in 1989) get those extra couple of shifts in playoffs that can make a difference," Neale said.

Toronto coach Paul Maurice remembers gangly defenceman Niclas Wallin twice bailed him out in overtime in Carolina's first trip to the final. Maurice messed up a line change that resulted in his over-extended first unit out against the Habs' fresh fourth line.

"I'm swearing at myself all the way down the bench, because now I can't go fourth line with Saku Koivu coming out next for them," Maurice recalled. "But Jeff O'Neill won the draw back to Wallin, it bounced three times and went in. (Habs' coach) Michel Therrien just got destroyed in the papers next day for having his fourth line out, even though Bill Lindsay had won his two previous draws."


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