Calgary Flames' Eric Nystrom, foreground, celebrates his game-winning goal during the third period of a playoff game in Calgary, Alberta, Wednesday, April 22, 2009. Nystrom is one of those unsung heroes you should keep an eye on as the playoffs roll on. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntos
By Randy Moller for floridapanthers.com
During every NHL playoff year, teams not only rely on their star players to reach the ultimate goal, but count on unheralded “soldiers” to play a big part. The fun part for fans is you don’t know who will get the opportunity, and who will grasp, and shine in the spotlight. Injuries, poor play, or a coach’s “hunch” usually dictate the outcome for these individual’s ice time and impact. Over the years, there have been many who have been tagged with the “boy, has he played well, and where the hell was he during the regular season?”. This year’s playoff run is no different. Keep your eye on these “difference makers” as you enjoy the rest of these 1st round matchups, and for the rest of the Stanley Cup run…..
Calgary Flames - Eric Nystrom. Good pedigree. His father Bobby played an integral role in the early 80’s New York Islander Cup dynasty. Only 5 goals in the regular season, Eric has enjoyed his '09 playoffs, chipping in a couple of huge goals, including Game 4's winner Wednesday night to tie the series at two, and quality ice time for Mike Keenan.
Chicago Blackhawks - Dustin Byfuglien. 3rd line “wrecking ball” with good hands and a nose for the net. Fits in great on an up-and-coming Hawks team desperate for aggressive forwards to off set prolific playmakers JonathanToews, Patrick Kane and Martin Havlat
New York Rangers - Paul Mara. Not young, but this journeyman defenseman has logged huge minutes for the Blue Shirts so far in the Caps/Rangers series, adding much needed offense along with his “shutdown” assignments. Just ask Alex Ovechkin.
Anaheim Ducks - Bobby Ryan. One of the Calder Trophy finalists, led all NHL rookies in goals (31) during his 1st campaign, and has carried himself like a seasoned veteran during their rough series with San Jose. Big role amongst a star studded Ducks lineup, Ryan will not fly under the radar for long.
Boston Bruins - Byron Bitz. With the one-game suspension to Milan Lucic and injuries to the Bruins forwards, “Bitzzy” has produced a point-a-game for the Bruins. A late bloomer, this college standout has gained confidence after just 35 games for the big club during the regular season. Big and strong, Bitz fits in well on Boston’s 4th line.
Carolina Hurricanes - Dennis Seidenberg. Gobbling up minutes and frustrating the Devil’s sharpshooters during their 1st round battle with New Jersey, Seidenberg’s stock has risen with his composure on the blue line.
Pittsburgh Penguins - Tyler Kennedy. Not big in stature, but he and Matt Cooke have offset the Evgeni Malkin/Sidney Crosby offensive machines with strong fore checking, and timely goals this spring. Never one to take a shift “off”, his value to the Pens is underrated.
Vancouver Canucks - Willie Mitchell. Two huge assists in the “’Nucks first round sweep of the St Louis Blues cannot be overlooked. Ask Roberto Luongo. He wouldn’t want anyone else patrolling in front of Vancouver’s net these playoffs.
Detroit Red Wings - Jonathan Ericsson. Wings head coach Mike Babcock says he lobbied for this 25 year old Swedish rearguard to make the Wings out of training camp. Well, he has seized his chance these playoffs with great vision and excellent puck movement. Could we see another Nicklas Lidstrom in the works? I think so.
Follow these individuals as you enjoy this year’s NHL playoffs….they’ve all played an import role up to this point. The future looks bright.