Skip to main content

Unsung playoff heroes

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

In every NHL post-season, relatively unknown players step up to help their teams win games and series. Their contributions don’t always come in the form of a game-winning goal or lead-preserving save, but coaches and teams appreciate the small things that help a team win big. Here are the Top 10 unsung heroes (so far) of the 2011 playoffs.

10. Joel Ward, Nashville

To win, the star-challenged Preds need all their role players to chip in; nobody has done so more than right winger Ward, who leads the team in goals (four) and points (seven).

9. Eric Brewer, Tampa Bay

There wasn’t much fanfare when Bolts GM Steve Yzerman acquired Brewer from St. Louis in February. However, Brewer has supplied the veteran blueline experience Tampa Bay needed entering the playoffs; he by far leads the team in time on ice (25:57 per game - nearly four minutes more than the next-most-utilized player, Victor Hedman, at 22:05) and brings calm to a blueline that needs it.

8. Marcus Johansson, Washington

The Capitals rookie came on strong for Washington later in the regular season and continued to excel in the playoffs, netting two goals and six points to sit third in Caps scoring behind only Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin.

7. Kyle Wellwood, San Jose

The subject of much derision over the past few years, Wellwood has quietly re-established himself as a defensively responsible third-liner and has amassed three assists and four points in San Jose’s eight playoff games.

6. Chris Higgins, Vancouver

A trade deadline acquisition, Higgins’ value has depreciated greatly in recent years, but he currently leads the Canucks with a pair of game-winning goals despite averaging a relatively modest 17:25 of ice time.

5. Boyd Gordon, Washington

A defensive specialist for the Caps, Gordon has been the best faceoff man on the team in the playoffs, winning 68 of 100 puck-drops thus far. Contrast that with struggling Washington center Nicklas Backstrom (65 wins in 143 faceoffs for a 45.4 percentage) and you get even more of a sense of how vital Gordon’s play has been.

4. Sean Bergenheim, Tampa Bay

People expect Martin St-Louis and Vincent Lecavalier to contribute a lot to the Lightning’s offense. But nobody thought Bergenheim, who had been virtually invisible in parts of five seasons with the Islanders, would be tied with St-Louis and Lecavalier for the team’s lead in playoff goals (all three have five apiece).

3. Scott Nichol, San Jose

Nichol has averaged just 7:05 of ice time in the playoffs, but he makes the most of it, acting as an agitator who suckers the opposition into drawing penalties. After he lured Kings star defenseman Drew Doughty into a roughing penalty in Game 4 and later drew a double-minor for high-sticking that led to a Sharks power play goal, Kings coach Terry Murray said “Give Nichol credit. He’s the reason why they won.”

2. Chris Kelly, Boston

Acquired from Ottawa in mid-February, Kelly has been a reliable foot soldier for Bruins coach Claude Julien and is tied for the team lead in playoff goals, with four.

1. Ryan Suter, Nashville

Suter’s teammate Shea Weber gets a lot of the praise on the Preds blueline, but Suter has averaged nearly a full minute more of ice time per game (29:34) than Weber (28:45) and leads Nashville in assists (five). He has still only earned one third-star nod from THN these playoffs.


PRODUCER: Ted Cooper

The Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on

If you enjoy this feature, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine for the exclusive countdown, Starting From 5, and other great features from the world of hockey.


Noah Cates

Injuries Don’t Excuse Philadelphia’s 10-Game Winless Streak

Adam Proteau argues the Philadelphia Flyers have made little progress since GM Chuck Fletcher took over four years ago despite a hot start to 2022-23.

Borje Salming

Hockey Things: What Caught Our Eye (Nov. 28)

Swedish hockey fans pay their respects to Borje Salming, NHLers give their World Cup picks and Claude Giroux puts the Kings away in style.

Connor McDavid

Fischler Report: Debating the Rangers and Oilers’ Rocky Play

Stan Fischler's report covers differing opinions on the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers, why the American Thanksgiving NHL rule is phony and more.