Samuel Pahlsson, that’s who, the Anaheim Ducks forward whose smothering defence and timely scoring thrust him into the spotlight in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Pahlsson was outstanding for the Ducks, who knocked off favoured Ottawa in five games following Wednesday night’s 6-2 victory, using the best checking line in hockey to suffocate the high-flying Senators. He capped his successful playoffs by being named third star in the decisive Game 5 of the Cup final.
Few outside of Anaheim knew of the Ducks’ checking centre before the playoffs, but he’s certainly a familiar face now, especially to the Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators.
Pahlsson’s checking line with Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen shut down the top offensive threats on those teams, including Pavol Demitra and Marian Gaborik of the Wild in the first round, the Sedin twins in the second round, Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings in the third round and the Jason Spezza/Dany Heatley Sens duo in the Cup final.
“This was his coming-out party in these playoffs,” said Ducks GM Brian Burke. “We’ve known for a long time how valuable he is but now the rest of the NHL knows as well.”
The 29-year-old native of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, has not only played terrific defensive hockey but also has scored some clutch goals in these playoffs.
He scored the winner in Game 2 of the Cup final, a 1-0 victory, also scored the series-clincher against Detroit in the Western Conference final and scored the opening goal in the Ducks’ series-winning game over Vancouver in the second round.
Overall he had 11 points (3-8) in 21 playoff games while playing clutch minutes and killing penalties.
He’s tough as nails, too. The six-foot, 205-pound Pahlsson can deliver a check and take one like anyone in the league.
“Sammy’s a Swede, but he thinks he’s from Red Deer,” said Burke.
Pahlsson developed in the MoDo hockey organization, the celebrated Swedish hockey team that also produced the likes of Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund and the Sedin twins.
But unlike those players, he didn’t come to the NHL with much fanfare. He was Colorado’s seventh-round choice, 176th overall, in the 1996 NHL entry draft. He never played a game for the Avs. His rights were included in the blockbuster Ray Bourque trade in March 2000, the Hall of Fame defenceman leaving the Bruins so that he could finally win a Cup with the Avs.
Pahlsson made his NHL debut with the Bruins in the 2000-01 season but only lasted 17 games before being traded to Anaheim in exchange for Andrei Nazarov and Patrick Traverse – an awful deal for Boston.
Once in Anaheim he began to develop as a trusted checker, and helped the Ducks reach the Cup final in 2003, a seven-game loss to New Jersey.
His reputation has grown over the last few years to the point where he was finally nominated for the Selke Trophy this season, the award given to the NHL’s top defensive forward. He’ll find out June 14 in Toronto if he wins it. The other nominees are reigning winner Rod Brind’Amour of Carolina and Jay Pandolfo of New Jersey.