CALGARY -- Unlikely heroes emerge in the Stanley Cup Playoffs every year, but the hockey gods usually limit it to one per team.
This year, the Anaheim Ducks have tempted fate and gotten a little greedy. Three games into their Western Conference First Round series against the Calgary Flames, the Ducks have received big-time performances from two unsung heroes, and it is difficult to decide who has had the greater impact, defenseman Shea Theodore or forward Nate Thompson.
On one hand, Theodore has done an exceptional job stepping in for injured defenseman Cam Fowler to anchor the Ducks power play. Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle has used Theodore on the point of the first unit, opposite Ryan Getzlaf. Theodore's work there, coupled with his production at even strength, has resulted in five points (two goals, three assists), tied with five players for second in the NHL behind Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin's six entering Tuesday.
[RELATED: Complete Ducks vs. Flames series coverage]
Theodore scored twice in a 5-4 overtime win in Game 3 on Monday, tying the Ducks record for most goals by a defenseman in one playoff game.
"Before playoffs, I probably couldn't have predicted anything," he said Tuesday. "I feel my game, my confidence has kind of taken off."
On the other hand, Thompson has come in and given Carlyle one more option at center, where the Ducks already were deep. Much of the focus in the series has been on centers Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Antoine Vermette, but Thompson, who was limited by injury to 30 games in the regular season, has provided even more depth since returning.
With Vermette struggling, Thompson was moved up to the third line between Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell during Game 3, and it was that line that proved to be the catalyst in Anaheim's rally from down three goals.
Video: ANA@CGY, Gm3: Thompson tips point shot past Elliott
"We played together last year in the playoffs a little bit," Thompson said. "So there's some familiarness."
The Ducks lead the best-of-7 series 3-0 and have a chance to complete the sweep in Game 4 at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports, PRIME).
Thompson had three points (goal, two assists) Monday, one more than he had in the regular season. But Carlyle values Thompson for reasons other than the offense he occasionally provides. The Ducks introduced several younger players into the lineup in the regular season, and Carlyle understands the importance of a veteran like Thompson, who plays with an edge.
Theodore had nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 34 games with the Ducks in the regular season, most of which he spent with Anaheim's American Hockey League affiliate in San Diego.
He didn't play especially well when given the opportunity earlier in the season and dropped on the depth chart behind fellow rookie defenseman Brandon Montour, who the Ducks believed was playing a more complete game.
Theodore returned to the NHL for the final week and scored the Ducks' final goal of the regular season -- on a breakaway in overtime in the season finale against the Los Angeles Kings.
It has been onward and upward for him ever since.
"I just think he's playing his game," Carlyle said Tuesday. "He's playing to his strengths. Shea Theodore is a puck-moving, offensively gifted defenseman, and he's just cutting his teeth in the League.
"You continue to see glimpses of it. Last night was more of a pressure situation. When you get young players stepping up and doing what he did, how do you not notice it and not put him back out there?"
Video: ANA@CGY, Gm3: Theodore's wrister finds twine
A high-school acquaintance reached out to Theodore to let him know he bid on him in a playoff fantasy pool.
"He sent me a Snapchat, 'I got you for $1 in my pool,'" Theodore said. "He was like, 'Haha, you were that cheap.' Then he texted me last night to tell me he was winning his pool right now."
So the Ducks aren't the only ones seeing a bright future for Theodore and loving the contributions he's making in the present too.