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Five players who have stepped up to become unexpected heroes this post-season

Pontus Aberg scored the biggest goal of his career Saturday night when he netted the Game 5 winner for the Predators. But he’s not the only unlikely hero this post-season.

If one were to come up with a list of likely heroes in Game 5 for the Nashville Predators, Pontus Aberg would have come into play somewhere after Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, James Neal, four of the six Predators’ defensemen and Pekka Rinne. In fact, Aberg would probably end up behind a few more, and it might be fair to say the only players who would have finished lower on the list than Aberg are those who were only suiting up in one of their first playoff games of the campaign.

But after Colin Wilson had drawn Nashville even in the final minute of the second frame, it was Aberg, midway through the third period on a drive to the net following a Forsberg shot, that picked up a loose puck and slipped it past Jonathan Bernier. And low on the list of prospective heroes or not, Aberg's goal was the one who that gave the Predators a 3-2 series lead in the Western Conference final.

For Aberg, the goal was a monumental one: not only was it the game-winner, but it was his first career playoff tally, coming in his ninth career playoff game. He was an unexpected source for the game-winning goal, a player who hadn’t factored into the outing all that much up until he found twine. In the contest, Aberg was on ice for a mere 11:14, but at times skated as part of the top-six in Nashville’s rejigged lineup. Overall, it was his 24th game in the big league and when the puck crossed the goal line, it was only the second time the 23-year-old had lit the lamp in the NHL.

Aberg isn’t the first surprise hero, though, and he won't be the last. Every single playoff, there’s a long list of players — from youngsters and role-players to shutdown men and tough guys — who find that one bit of magic that adds to the beauty of a post-season run. These playoffs have been no different. Take a look back at five others who have been unexpected heroes thus far:

Cody McLeod, Nashville Predators

Aberg’s immediately joined on the list by a fellow Predator, but the two players couldn’t be more different. Aberg is a versatile, fleet-of-foot winger with scoring potential, a second-round draft pick that has worked his way up to the NHL by tearing up goaltenders in the AHL across the past two seasons. McLeod, on the other hand, is the type of tough customer that isn’t all too common in the NHL anymore. Not especially gifted offensively, McLeod has made his living using his hands for fighting more often than he has for filling the net. 

In Game 3 of the second round against the St. Louis Blues, though, McLeod donned a cape and played hero. The tally was a skillful one, too, showcasing McLeod’s hand-eye coordination and second-effort mentality as he chipped the puck past Jake Allen.

McLeod was an even more unexpected source of offense for the Predators than Aberg given that the veteran tough guy has averaged less than seven minutes of ice time all post-season. The goal was only the third career playoff tally he has scored in an NHL career that has spanned nearly 700 games.

Marc Methot, Nashville Predators

Methot’s career has spanned nearly 600 games over which time he has operated largely as a shutdown defender. In his career, he has scored 21 goals, 120 points and only once has he ever managed to net the game-winner in the regular season. Further to the point about his lack of offense from the back end, Methot skated in 68 games for the Senators, fired 69 shots on goal and didn’t find the back of the net once.

So, when Methot not only scored in the Eastern Conference final but managed to net the game-winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins, it would be fair to say he was about the last person anyone would have expected. However, let’s not go mistaking Methot’s goal for some sort of highlight-reel tally. The marker came when Methot, pinching in from the blueline, fired a shot high on Marc-Andre Fleury, which led the puck to bounce down, deflect off the skate of Ian Cole and tick off of Fleury’s skate before skittering across the goal line.

It was almost the perfect goal for Methot to score, though. There was nothing all that pretty about it, but he worked hard to make it happen.

Sean Kuraly, Boston Bruins

Kuraly entered the post-season having played only eight career games in the NHL. He had never seen the playoffs, had never skated more than 12 minutes in a contest and his only foray onto a big league score sheet was an assist in late-April. When the post-season started, Kuraly got into two games against the Ottawa Senators, averaging roughly eight minutes of ice time in both outings, before hitting the sidelines for two-straight games as a healthy scratch. This is to say that heading into Game 5 of the opening round, Kuraly was mostly an afterthought in the Bruins’ lineup.

At least, that was the case until Kuraly scored his first career NHL goal — in the playoffs, no less — to draw the Bruins into a tie with the Senators late in the second period of Game 5. Note that this wasn’t the game-winning goal, so how exactly was Kuraly a playoff hero?

Deadlocked at 2-2, Boston and Ottawa headed to an extra frame, and though both teams exchanged chances, the first overtime ended with neither team ending Game 5. In the second overtime frame, though, a faceoff win by David Backes led to a point shot by Charlie McAvoy. After hitting bodies in front, the puck found Kuraly at the side of the net for a backhand tap-in and overtime-winning goal. How's that for a first career playoff game-winner?

Joel Edmundson, St. Louis Blues

Statistically, Edmundson entered the post-season having just had the greatest season of his career, but that isn’t saying all that much. While he’s undoubtedly a skilled, up-and-coming rearguard for the Blues, Edmundson is far from the Alex Pietrangelos or Colton Paraykos of the St. Louis roster and is better noted for playing a physical, shutdown role than he is finding the score sheet. Nevertheless, his three goals and 15 points were the best marks of his career.

Regardless of his point total, though, Edmundson still would have and probably should have been pegged as the last person the Blues would need to rely on for a game-winning goal. Yet, there Edmundson was in St. Louis’ opening game of the post-season, turning in arguably the biggest goal of his career.

The goal itself isn’t a typical goal by a defender. There’s no big blast, no shot from the point and he’s not even somehow the triggerman on an odd-man rush. Rather, Edmundson somehow managed to become the trailer on a play in which the Blues were outnumbered by Wild defenders. Minnesota failed to pick up Edmundson as he snuck in behind the play and when the puck ended up on his stick, the Blues defender made no mistake, snapping off a perfect shot. 

What followed was arguably the best celebration of the playoffs, mostly because Edmundson seemed as shocked as anyone that he scored the winner.

Tanner Glass, New York Rangers

In the final season of his three-year deal with the Rangers, Glass’ season started with him hitting the waiver wire so he could be sent down to the AHL. When no team took a shot on the pugilist, he found himself with the Hartford Wolf Pack, and that’s where he proceeded to spend almost the entire campaign. In early March, however, the Rangers were looking for a spark and they called on Glass.

Across the remainder of the regular season, Glass hit the ice 11 times, was scratched six times and skated less than 11 minutes per game when he was actually in the lineup. He did, however, unexpectedly contribute with one goal and two assists. And maybe that was a wild bit of foreshadowing of what was to come in the post-season.

With the wild-card Rangers up against the Atlantic Division’s top-seeded Montreal Canadiens, Glass drew into Game 1 of the series. The intention was for Glass to get a few shifts, cause some havoc and hit the bench. Instead, he ended up being the Rangers’ Game 1 hero and, as luck would have it, wound up scoring the opening goal of the 2016-17 playoffs when he scooped a puck up on his backhand after a scrambled draw and rifled it past the Canadiens’ all-world netminder Carey Price.

Glass’ goal came early, but Henrik Lundqvist pitched a shutout for the Blueshirts, making the tough guy’s goal the game-winner. It marked only the third time in his entire NHL career that Glass had scored the winning goal and the first time in nearly 70 playoff games that he was the hero.

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