While everyone in the hockey world will be focused on the exploits of Crosby, Malkin, Datsyuk and Zetterberg, you’ll have to forgive me if I zero in on two other players who I think will be paramount to their teams’ success: Tomas Holmstrom of the Wings and Ryan Malone of the Penguins.
Through three rounds, Malone stood tied for eighth in playoff scoring with six goals and 15 points in 14 games while Holmstrom was tied for 24th with three goals and 10 points in 16 games.
Why these two?
That’s easy, they are the players who drive to the net, park themselves in front and battle for every inch of real estate they can get. They are the guys who are willing to pay the price to notch a point.
Holmstrom, 35, is the poster child for players who make life miserable for opposing goaltenders. So much so that the NHL actually waved off a goal he scored in Round 3 because of his previous dastardly deeds. You just know Pittsburgh’s Hal Gill is already preparing himself for confrontations with Holmstrom.
At 6-feet and just more than 200 pounds, Holmstrom is hardly the most physically intimidating player. But as we all know by now, he has a knack for making himself look bigger than he really is, which I’m certain has crossed the mind of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Malone is a bit of a different animal in that he doesn’t necessarily park his butt in front of the other team’s net, but his is a physical presence down low. It took a few years, but he has finally learned that at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, he can use his size to control both the puck and the pace of the game.
After three good years with the Pens, and countless rumors he’d be traded away, Malone kicked it up a notch in 2007-08 with his best NHL season yet, establishing single-season highs in goals (27) and points (51). Not only that, he has developed into a valuable special teams player. He was third on the Penguins with 11 power play goals, scored twice while shorthanded and led the club with six game-winners.
This being a contract year, my betting is there will be plenty of suitors should the Penguins foolishly allow him to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Teams will be tripping over each other to get a power forward in the prime of his career.
This year’s Stanley Cup final is setting up as potentially one of the best ever. The longer it goes, the better. And with the star players possibly canceling each other out, the difference in the series could come down to the grinders.
If that is the case, Holmstrom and Malone could decide it for their respective teams.
Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.
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