The 2010-11 National Hockey League season is going the distance.
The Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks have seen to that with a back-and-forth Stanley Cup Final that was extended to a Game 7 after the Bruins' 5-2 win Monday in Game 6 at TD Garden.
This will be just the 16th seventh game in the history of the Final, but they're becoming a little more common. There was just a single Game 7 per decade during the 1970s, '80s and '90s, but in the last decade there were five instances where a series was taken to the limit before the Cup was awarded.
While we wait to see which goaltender will come up the biggest Wednesday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS), something else to consider is that each of those past five Game 7s had at least one unsung hero, a player hardly considered a star on his team who nevertheless had his fingerprints all over the most critical of victories -- as well as the Cup in the ensuing celebration.
Here's a look back at five unlikely names to make the Final grade in a seventh game:
2009: Maxime Talbot, Penguins -- The enduring image of Pittsburgh's first Stanley Cup title in 17 years will be Marc-Andre Fleury's lunging stop on Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom in the closing seconds, preventing what would have been the game-tying goal. That Fleury saved the day came as no surprise. Less expected was Talbot, a pest and grind-line skater who never has scored more than 13 goals in an NHL season, would provide all the offense for the Penguins in a 2-1 victory. There were, however, some signs Talbot had this clutch moment in him. The previous year, when the Red Wings beat the Penguins in six games for the Cup, it was Talbot who delayed the celebration in the Motor City by scoring late in Game 5 to tie a game Pittsburgh went on to win in triple overtime. He finished the 2009 postseason with 8 goals.
2006: Aaron Ward, Hurricanes -- It would be pretty safe to term Ward a "stay-at-home" defenseman, given he scored all of 44 goals in 839 career games, and never more than 6 in a season. That career season came for Carolina in 2005-06 as the franchise made a bid to win its first Stanley Cup. Ward had just 1 goal in 24 postseason games as the Hurricanes entered Game 7 of the Final looking to stave off a comeback by the upstart Oilers, who had rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to draw even. The opening goal figured to be critical, and it was Ward who got it just 1:26 into the game. Another unheralded defenseman, Frantisek Kaberle, doubled their lead and Cam Ward brought the Cup home with a 3-1 win.
2004: Ruslan Fedotenko, Lightning -- Save for a breakout 26-goal season in 2005-06, Fedotenko has been a forward you generally can count on for 10-19 goals per season throughout his career. During the 2004 postseason, he nearly matched his regular-season output (17 goals in 77 games) in 53 fewer games. Fedotenko erupted to score 12 goals for Tampa Bay, but you couldn't find two any more important than the ones he put up in a decisive Game 7 victory against Calgary, as the Lightning won 2-1 for the franchise's first championship. Fedotenko would be similarly prolific for the Penguins in their 2009 run, with 7 goals in 24 games, giving him 19 goals in 46 games over those two Cup runs. Talk about opportunistic -- Fedotenko has 1 goal in 42 games during seven other trips to the playoffs.
2003: Michael Rupp, Devils -- There couldn't have been a more unlikely Game 7 hero when the Final began that year, because at that point Rupp hadn't skated in an NHL game since March 28. An injury to Joe Nieuwendyk opened the door, and Rupp finally got his first taste of the playoffs in Game 4 of the Final. He had an assist in Game 5, but that was his only point in his first three games. Then came the all-or-nothing Game 7 in New Jersey. Martin Brodeur was flawless in goal, but he needed a little assistance from his offense. Rupp would be the go-to guy, getting the deflection on a Scott Niedermayer shot early in the second period to put the Devils on the board, and then setting up a pair of insurance goals by Jeff Friesen in a 3-0 win that gave New Jersey its third Stanley Cup inside of a decade.
2001: Adam Foote, Avalanche -- It's more of a stretch to find an "unsung hero" in Colorado's vanquishing of New Jersey, as the key contributors in Game 7 for the Avalanche -- Alex Tanguay, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy -- all were household names, as was Ray Bourque, the veteran defenseman whom the team so badly wanted to make a Stanley Cup champion for the first time. The steady, underrated Foote helped set up Tanguay's decisive goal in a 3-1 victory by clearing a puck off the boards and ahead to Sakic for a breakaway. Brodeur denied the chance, but Tanguay buried the rebound. Foote also was instrumental in the Avalanche even seeing a Game 7 -- with the Devils leading the series 3-2 and looking to finish it off at home two nights earlier, Foote had the opening goal and added 2 assists in a 4-0 win.