When the Stanley Cup Playoffs arrive every April, the scorers are expected to score. That’s a given. But the grand stage of springtime hockey also affords opportunities for anyone to make a name for themselves.
Names like Matteau, Ward (Joel and Cam), Fedotenko and Talbot, once unknown to the masses, suddenly became overnight heroes due to their performances when it mattered most. Perhaps a member of the Preds will add their likeness to the list of postseason legends over the coming days and weeks.
“So often, it’s a third or fourth line guy that steps up and runs with it and it makes a big difference [in the playoffs],” forward Matt Cullen said. “We have a lot of guys that have the potential to do that, and it's always exciting to see who does.”
Preds fourth-line wingers Gabriel Bourque and Taylor Beck are perhaps just two of those candidates who could prove to be a difference maker when the time comes.
Bourque, who skated in 10 postseason contests with the Preds in 2012, has proved to possess a knack for playoff heroics. He potted two goals, including the game winner, in his NHL playoff debut against Detroit in 2012 and was tied for the team lead in goals with three before Nashville’s run came to an end.
The native of Rimouski, Quebec, also delivered big performances in his junior hockey days, helping Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League win the 2010 President’s Trophy as QMJHL Champions. Bourque was awarded the 2010 Guy Lafleur Trophy as playoff MVP that season, leading all skaters in goals (19) and ranking third in postseason points.
“It’s just a fun time of the year,” Bourque said of the playoffs. “The game is fast and physical, which I think is my type of game. This year is a new year, so I just have to come here with the same mindset I did in . Just have fun, play hard and give all you’ve got on the ice and good things happen.”
“Bourque has been great all year,” defenseman Roman Josi said. “He plays with a lot of energy, and he just makes it so tough on the other players. I couldn’t imagine playing against him as a defenseman. Every time he goes for a puck, he’s going to hit you. He skates well, he’s been having a great year, and he’s a really big key for us in the playoffs.”
For Beck, Game One on Wednesday against Chicago will be his first taste of NHL postseason action, although he’s no stranger to playing playoff hockey. Beck skated in the playoffs from 2008-11 with Guelph of the OHL, and then with the Preds AHL affiliate Milwaukee from 2011-14 in the postseason.
“I love the playoffs,” Beck said. “I’m playing on a great line with [Paul Gaustad] and Bourque, and we’re going to have a good task at home playing against some tough lines. I’m ready for the challenge, and it’s going to be exciting.”
Defenseman Mattias Ekholm, also set to appear in his first NHL playoff contest on Wednesday, knows that anyone can register a substantial tally when it's least expected.
“That’s what makes the playoffs so special, and I think that’s what makes teams successful in the playoffs usually,” Ekholm said. “They get those third or fourth line guys that aren’t the natural goal scorers and they just chip in. They get a rebound, they get a dirty goal from somewhere and that could be a game winner. I think it’s an exciting time for all of us. We have almost 25 guys in here that want to be that hero. That’s going to drive us.”
And before it’s all said and done, someone is going to deliver the big hit, shake off a defender to thread a pass or be on the doorstep for that tap-in goal. For Bourque and the Preds, who completes that part doesn’t matter. Instead, it’s the end result which is paramount.
“What’s important right now is to win the game,” Bourque said. “It’s not a selfish time of the year, it’s a time to give it your all and just go for the win every night…Everybody is ready to execute their role and we’re excited.”