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Two teams of unsung Stanley Cup heroes

by John Kreiser

Ruslan Fedotenko was a major factor in bringing the Stanley Cup to Florida for the first time.
The history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is filled with the stories of players having the postseason equivalent of a career year -- a springtime in which everything went right.

Here are 12 players whose performances in a single spring are still memorable.

First Team: Goaltender

Richard Brodeur, Vancouver, 1982 --
Brodeur was a late-round draft pick by the New York Islanders in 1972 who opted to stay home and play for the Quebec Nordiques of the World Hockey Association. He was among the top goaltenders in the WHA, leading the Nords to the Avco Cup in 1977 and ranking second in league history in victories with 165. But when four WHA teams were absorbed by the NHL in 1979, Brodeur wound up back with the Islanders, who already had two excellent goaltenders in Glenn Resch and Billy Smith. He played in two games for the Isles in 1979-80, spending most of the season in the minors, then was dealt to Vancouver just before the start of the 1980-81 season.

Brodeur was a good goalie on an up-and-down team. But in the spring of 1982, following the only winning season of his NHL career (20-18-12), Brodeur suddenly got hot. The Canucks swept Calgary in the opening round, ripped through Los Angeles in five games and bounced Chicago in five to make the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. Brodeur was dubbed "King Richard" for his brilliant play, which keyed the Canucks' improbable trip to the Final.

Unfortunately for Brodeur and the Canucks, the Islanders' dynasty was at its peak, and Brodeur's former team swept the Canucks easily. But Brodeur still finished with an 11-6 record and 2.70 goals-against average.

Though he kept the starting job in Vancouver until Kirk McLean came along in 1987, Brodeur never enjoyed the kind of success he'd had that spring. Playing in a high-scoring era and behind a weak defense, he never again posted a winning record and won just two more playoff games in his career.

First Team: Defense
Ken Morrow, New York Islanders, 1983 -- By the spring of 1983, Morrow already had an Olympic gold medal as well as three Stanley Cup rings with the Islanders. He was the quintessential defensive defenseman -- a player who took care of business in his own zone and generally left the scoring to someone else, not a bad thing when you have players like Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Denis Potvin on your team.

But in the 1983 Playoffs, Morrow became an offensive contributor as well. After getting just five goals (a career high) and 16 points in 79 regular-season games, he put up five goals and 12 points in just 19 games. His biggest contribution came in the Final against Edmonton, where he scored three goals in the Isles' four-game sweep while helping to keep Wayne Gretzky off the scoresheet.

Morrow played through 1988-89, when the knee problems that had bothered him for several years forced him to hang up his skates. In 51 playoff games after 1983, he managed just two goals and seven points.
Tim Horton, Toronto, 1962 -- Horton is a Hall of Famer, but not because of his offensive skills. He reached double figures in goals just three times in 25 NHL seasons, and never had more than 40 points. In 17 playoff seasons, he hit double figures in points just once.

That came in 1962, when Horton scored three goals and added 13 assists for 16 points, going 2-7-9 in Toronto's six-game semifinal victory over the Rangers and 1-6-7 as Toronto beat Chicago in six games to win the Cup, starting the Maple Leafs' run of three consecutive championships.

In his other 114 playoff games, Horton had just eight goals and 34 points -- and never more than three goals or eight points in one season.

First Team: Forwards

John Druce, Washington, 1990 --
Few players have had a playoff series so out of character with the rest of their career as Druce, who helped carry the Washington Capitals to the 1990 Eastern Conference final.

Druce, the Caps' second-round pick in 1985, came up from the minors in 1988-89, scoring eight goals and 15 points in 48 games. The Caps sent him back to the minors in 1989-90 before recalling him halfway through the season -- this time, he managed just eight goals and 11 points in 45 games.

That's what made his playoff performance so unexpected. In 15 games, Druce had an astounding 14 goals and added three assists for 17 points. Eight of those goals came on the power play and four were game-winners. The Capitals ousted New Jersey and beat the New York Rangers to make the semifinals for the first time before being swept by Boston.

Druce's playoff performance put him on magazine covers and had Caps fans eagerly anticipating a big season from the big right wing in 1990-91. It wasn't to be. Druce had respectable totals of 22 goals and 58 points in '90-91, then scored just once and added an assist in 11 playoff games. The Caps dealt him to Winnipeg that summer. Though Druce stayed in the NHL with the Jets, Kings and Flyers through 1997-98, he never broke the 20-goal mark again and had just two goals and two assists in 26 playoff games.

Druce finished his NHL career with 17 playoff goals and 23 points -- getting all but three goals and six points in 1989-90.

Mel Hill, Boston, 1939 -- Hill was a rookie right wing on a Boston team that tore through the NHL, going 36-10-2 for 74 points, the second-highest total in League history at the time. He had 10 goals and 20 points, respectable totals for a first-year player.

But Hill made a name for himself in the playoffs that spring.

Game 1 of the semifinals was tied 1-1 when Hill scored at 19:25 of the third overtime to give the Bruins the win. He was the hero again in Game 2, scoring at 8:24 of OT for a 3-2 victory and a 2-0 series lead. A 4-1 win in Game 3 had the Bruins on the verge of a sweep. But the Bruins' offense suddenly went cold. They scored just three goals as the Rangers won the next three games, setting up Game 7 at Boston on April 2.

The Bruins continued to struggle offensively, and the game was tied 1-1 through regulation and two overtimes. But with the Boston Garden crowd roaring on every shot, Hill became a hero again when he scored at the eight-minute mark of the third overtime to give Boston a 2-1 win.

Dave Lowry helped the Panthers get to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals by tallying 10 goals, matching his regular season total.
Hill's heroics earned him the nickname "Sudden Death Hill," and carried the Bruins into the Final, where they breezed past Toronto for the Cup. Hill finished the playoffs with six goals and nine points -- and though he played four more playoff seasons and won another Cup with Toronto in 1945, he never approached those totals again. But he's still the only player to get three overtime winners in the same series, and the legend of "Sudden Death Hill" still lives on among older Boston fans

Dave Lowry, Florida, 1996 -- Lowry was a grinder's grinder, a player who made the NHL through hard work and grit and kept his job the same way. He had played nine seasons with Vancouver and  St. Louis before coming to the first-year Florida Panthers in 1993.

Lowry was the same kind of player in Florida that he had been in his previous stops -- a hard worker who chipped in with a goal here and there. He remained that way into 1995-96, when the third-year Panthers surprised everyone by making the playoffs for the first time.

Lowry had just 10 goals during the regular season, but matched that total while rolling up 16 points during the Panthers' stunning run though the Eastern Conference. He had just one assist as Colorado swept the Panthers in the Stanley Cup Final, but the 17 points were one more than he had accumulated in six previous playoff seasons.

He remained with the Panthers through 1997-98, then spent time with San Jose and Calgary before retiring after the 2003-04 season. Lowry finished with 16 playoff goals -- 10 of them in one memorable spring.

Second Team: Goaltender
John Davidson, New York Rangers, 1979 --
Most fans know J.D. as a broadcaster and now a team executive; it's easy to forget that he was once one of the NHL's brightest young goaltenders. St. Louis drafted him fifth overall in 1973 and kept him in the NHL for a full season -- the first goaltender ever to play a full NHL season right out of juniors without minor-league experience.

The New York Rangers traded for Davidson in June 1975 and hoped he'd become the new Ed Giacomin. But with the Rangers in a transition phase, Davidson spent the next three seasons battling injuries and inconsistency. He played more than 40 games just once in that span.

The arrival of Fred Shero as coach and general manager in 1978 triggered an upturn in the Rangers' fortunes. Davidson still played less than half the schedule, but had the best season of his career, record-wise, going 20-12-5.

Still, the Rangers weren't even the best team in the New York area. That honor belonged to the New York Islanders, who had surpassed the Montreal Canadiens and finished first in the overall standings. The Rangers weren't regarded as a Cup contender.

But Davidson was about to carry the Blueshirts on his back -- the way then-GM Emile Francis had envisioned when he acquired him four years earlier. He allowed just 10 goals as the Rangers swept Los Angeles in two games and blitzed Philadelphia in five. That earned the Rangers a semifinal meeting with the Islanders, who had visions of Stanley Cups dancing in their heads after the best season in team history.

But with Davidson in goal, the Rangers were the better team throughout. Only a pair of overtime losses stretched the series as long as six games. Davidson and the Rangers advanced to the Final for the first time in seven years with a 2-1 victory in Game 6 that rocked Madison Square Garden to the rafters.

The Rangers weren't supposed to have much chance in the Final against Montreal, which was seeking its fourth consecutive Cup. But the Rangers stunned everyone with a 4-1 victory in the opener at the Forum. They even took a 2-0 lead in Game 2 before the roof fell in. The Canadiens scored the next six goals and never looked back, winning the series in five games -- despite Davidson's heroics. Though the Rangers lost, J.D. finished with an 11-7 record and a 2.28 goals-against average.

Charlie Huddy, who scored three times and had 17 assists, was key in helping the Oilers win the Stanley Cup in 1985.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, the knee problems that Davidson was having during the Final quickly took a toll on his play. After posting a career-best 3.17 goals-against average in 41 games in 1979-80, Davidson was able to play just 12 games over the next three seasons. By the time he turned 30, he was already an ex-NHL goaltender.   

Second Team: Defense

Charlie Huddy, Edmonton, 1985 --
Huddy was a steady defenseman who won five Stanley Cup rings while a member of the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty in the 1980s. He wasn't usually a big offensive threat, but it was hard not to pile up some points while playing with some of the greatest offensive teams of all time. Huddy had career bests of 20 goals and 57 points in 1982-83, but he set his career high in assists in 1984-85, setting up 44 goals and scoring seven for 51 points.

Huddy's passing fancy continued in the playoffs, where he scored three times and added 17 assists for 20 points -- by far his biggest offensive playoff year; he didn't surpass 10 points in any of the other 12 seasons in which he made the playoffs. Of his 85 career playoff points, nearly one-quarter came in the spring of 1985, when the Oilers won their second consecutive Cup.

Andy Delmore, Philadelphia, 2000 -- Delmore was a journeyman defenseman until the spring of 2000, when he made Philadelphia Flyers history. Delmore had just two goals and eight points in 29 NHL games before the spring of 2000, when he had by far the best playoff of his career.

In 18 games, Delmore had five goals and seven assists. He became the first defenseman in Flyers history to get three goals in a game when he got three in Philadelphia's 6-3 victory over Pittsburgh on May 7. He became the first rookie defenseman in NHL history to get a hat trick and the first to have two multi-goal games in the same series -- he had scored twice in a game earlier against Pittsburgh.

But Flyers fans who might have dreamed that Delmore would turn into a high-scoring defenseman were soon disappointed. He had just five goals and 14 points in 66 games with the Flyers in 2000-01, and added one goal in two playoff games. Delmore turned into a power-play gunner in two seasons with Nashville, scoring 25 of his 34 goals with the man advantage, but never made the playoffs again.

Second Team: Forwards

Chris Kontos, Los Angeles, 1989 --
Kontos was the Rangers' No. 1 pick in the 1982 Entry Draft, but had a checkered career during the next six seasons, bouncing between three NHL teams and the minors while never playing more than 44 games with the Rangers, Pittsburgh or Los Angeles. After playing just three games with the Kings in 1987-88, he opted to sign with Kloten in the Swiss League, where he put up 33 goals and 55 points in 36 games.

When the Swiss League playoffs were done, Kontos re-signed with the Kings, who had added Wayne Gretzky in the offseason and were on the way to their best season in years. He had two goals and an assist in three regular-season games, but really lit it up in the playoffs.

Kontos, who had never scored more than eight goals in an NHL season, scored nine times in 11 games while becoming Gretzky's favorite target. Six of the goals came on the power play. The Kings ousted the defending Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers before losing to Calgary, but it looked like Kontos had finally arrived.

But again, it didn't happen. Kontos was bothered by injuries in 1989-90, spending most of the season in the minors. He didn't make it back to the NHL until 1992-93, when he had another stunner, scoring 27 goals and 51 points in 66 games for the first-year Tampa Bay Lightning.

That turned out to be his final NHL season. After a contract dispute, Kontos opted to play the 1993-94 season with the Canadian Olympic team, helping Canada win a silver medal. He played in Europe and the minors before retiring in 1998.
Ruslan Fedotenko, Tampa Bay, 2004 -- Fedotenko has been a member of six playoff teams. In five of those years, he has one goal and three points in 29 games. But in the spring of 2004, he was an invaluable contributor to Tampa Bay's first Stanley Cup victory.

Fedotenko, who had scored between 17 and 19 goals in each of his four NHL seasons, started finding the net for the Lightning in the playoffs. He had 10 goals and 12 points to help the Bolts get to the seventh and deciding game of the Final against Calgary, then got both of Tampa Bay's goals in a 2-1 victory that brought the Stanley Cup to Florida for the first time.

The Ukrainian-born forward has averaged 18 goals in the three seasons after the Cup victory, but has not had another playoff point.

Bob Brooke, New York Rangers, 1986 -- The former U.S. Olympian and Yale University star gave the Rangers a boost during the 1985-86 season, scoring 24 goals and 44 points to help New York rally for a playoff berth.

Brooke hadn't had a point in eight previous playoff games over two years (he was stoned by Billy Smith in overtime the fifth and deciding game of the opening round in 1984, seconds before the New York Islanders scored the series-winner). But 1986 was different: Brooke averaged nearly a point a game, scoring six goals and adding nine assists for 15 points in 16 games as the Rangers beat Philadelphia and Washington before losing to Montreal in the semifinals.

But by the middle of the following season, Brooke was a Minnesota North Star. He was predominantly a checking forward until he retired after the 1989-90 season, never approaching his regular-season or playoff totals from 1986.

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