It's becoming a more common sight for the Chicago Blackhawks.
An opposing defenseman heads back to get a puck in his own zone, thinking he's in the clear. Suddenly, a blur in a Blackhawks uniform comes motoring along and beats the defenseman to it -- scooping the puck himself and heading for the net at top speed.
That blur's name is Viktor Stalberg and the 6-foot-3, 209-pound Swedish forward is starting to make a name for himself across the League in just his second full season. Blessed with overpowering speed, the 26-year old Stalberg has become an "X-Factor" as the Hawks head into the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I wish I had speed like that," said Bryan Bickell, a power forward for Chicago who is also in his second full season. "He's one of the fastest guys in the League. In 1-on-1s, he's killer. He beats guys wide and it's crazy how fast he can get going. He gets to pucks first a lot and gets pucks when [defensemen] don't even think guys are coming. That's his game."
Thanks to improved offensive skills, plus added confidence -- don't forget the use of teammate Sami Lepisto's stick late in the season for a surge -- Stalberg has added scoring goals to his repertoire. In fact, he reached and then passed the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career, doing so with a paltry amount of power-play time.
"Being able to score 20 goals with kind of limited power-play time, if any, says something about his ability," Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We've got a lot of guys in that capacity who can play there, but he's definitely added to our secondary scoring, especially as of late."
In the final stretch of the season, Stalberg really came on offensively.
The Blackhawks were playing without captain Jonathan Toews, so the forward lines had to be reworked. eventually, Stalberg was put on the right wing of the second line with rookie Marcus Kruger at center and star forward Patrick Sharp on the left side.
The group has been so effective that Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is resisting the thought of breaking them up -- even with Toews nearing a return from his lengthy concussion-related absence.
"We've been playing great the last 10 to 12 games we've been together," said Stalberg, who came to Chicago in a deal that sent Kris Versteeg to the Toronto Maple Leafs following the Hawks' 2010 Stanley Cup win. "It seems like we're getting a good scoring chance every shift we're out there, which is something I really haven't had before. Sharp's been great. He's a proven player and one of the top players in this League, so he's been great and [Kruger] is quietly doing a lot of the work."
Stalberg, meanwhile, is earning himself a reputation as a guy to watch out for with all that speed and increased scoring ability. If he can extend it into his second straight postseason appearance, the Blackhawks could be even more dangerous than usual to face.
"I'm playing my best hockey right now, which is encouraging down the stretch and into the playoffs," Stalberg said. "I think I'm more complete. I'm playing better in our own end to start off and I think I'm getting a little more offense due to it. I'm more poised with the puck and making more plays. It's nice to get [more] confidence from the coaches, and I feel like I've been progressing due to it."