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Six players who could be heroes in Game 7

by Dave Lozo /
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- It seems that Game 7s usually don't remind us who the heroes are, but instead create new ones.

Stephane Matteau, Maxime Talbot and Michael Rupp all emerged in Stanley Cup Finals. Sean Bergenheim scored the winner against the Penguins this year in the first round. Even Cam Ward's entire 2006 postseason qualifies. There's an endless supply of players who became household names thanks to a surprisingly big performance in a do-or-die contest, no matter what round.

With the Sharks and Red Wings set to play the fifth Game 7 of this year's postseason, it's another opportunity for a lesser-known player to be forever remembered by fans.

But who will it be? These three players on each team who aren't exactly getting rushed for autographs might have the best chance to make a little history Thursday night at HP Pavilion:


Ruslan Salei -- The 36-year-old defenseman has 1 goal in 10 playoff games and had 2 goals in 75 regular-season games. He's not exactly Nicklas Lidstrom on the blue line, but the Sharks have been having a hard time covering defensemen who sneak into the offense the past two games. Salei has 16 shots in 10 games, so he's getting an occasional puck to the net. Perhaps that puck will find the back of the net at a crucial time in Game 7.

Drew Miller -- He's probably best known at this point in his career for being the brother of Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, but that can change in an instant Thursday. The 27-year-old forward whose gray hair belies his youth and has just 4 goals in 36 career playoff games nearly got one in Game 6, so he could be close to breaking through in a big way.

Patrick Eaves -- With 3 goals and 1 assist, he's already enjoying his best offensive performance ever in the playoffs. He just completed his sixth NHL season, so he's not exactly an unknown.  But how many fans outside of Detroit could pick Eaves out of a lineup? He has a goal in this series and scored twice in a game against the Phoenix in the first round, so maybe he's about to cement his name into Red Wings lore, which is some pretty good lore.


Scott Nichol -- The fourth-line winger scoring a hero-making goal in a Game 7 might be as unlikely as it gets, but ask anyone at Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final if they thought Michael Rupp would score the game-winner. Nichol is only playing 6:35 a game, but that didn't stop teammate Benn Ferriero from scoring the OT winner in Game 1 of this series. The 36-year-old had a 40-goal season as a 19-year-old with Portland of the WHL, so maybe he can rediscover that scoring touch for just one moment in Game 7.

Jason Demers -- The 22-year-old defenseman just completed his first full NHL season and is a threat to score from the blue line. He only had 2 goals in 72 regular-season games, but he already has 2 goals in 12 postseason games. He was nearly the hero of Game 6 when he deflected a shot that was headed toward an empty net with the Sharks still up 1-0, but he was later on the ice for the Red Wings' tying and winning goals. Redemption could come in a big way if he gets his third goal of the playoffs in Game 7.

Torrey Mitchell --
A staple of the third line with Joe Paveslki and Kyle Wellwood, coach Todd McLellan was forced to shuffle his lines for Game 6 with Ryane Clowe out with an injury. If Mitchell sees time with one of the Sharks' top-six forwards, it will put him in a great position to contribute offensively. He hasn't done much of that in the posteason with just 1 goal and 4 assists in 12 games. The 26-year-old has never had more than 10 goals during any of his three NHL seasons, but a second playoff goal in 2011 will make him a star in northern California.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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