With the Stanley Cup Finals drawing near, the vast majority of hockey fans have been talking about superstars like Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick and Ilya Kovalchuk. While they have each had a major impact on the way the postseason has played out, there are several less-talked-about players who deserve recognition as well.
Every year there are a number of players who were just ordinary during the regular season, but become critical contributors during the chase for the Cup. That has been the case this season as well as every team still in the running has had guys come from out of nowhere to reach superstar status.
Here are the three biggest unsung heroes remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs this season.
Who has been the playoffs' biggest unsung hero thus far?
The New York Rangers' hallmark throughout the playoffs has been their fantastic team defense, and few players have bought in as much as center Artem Anisimov. The 6'4" pivot has developed into a solid 15-plus-goal scorer in the NHL, but he normally isn't given a second thought.
Anisimov has done it all for the Rangers during the playoffs, though, as he is tied for 14th in the league in scoring with nine points and has been a defensive marvel as well.
Anisimov has often been tasked with locking down the opposition's top line. He was responsible for frustrating Alexander Ovechkin last round, and he has done the same against Kovalchuk thus far versus the New Jersey Devils. Anisimov's unselfish play has made him an exception to the thought that Russian players don't excel come playoff time and he will be vital to New York's chances moving forward.
After playing just 27 games during the regular season, it was unknown how much of a factor Los Angeles Kings rookie forward Dwight King might be come playoff time. He has exceeded all expectations, though, as he is tied for seventh in playoff goal scoring with five tallies. The 6'3", 234-lb. King has been a physical presence who is tough to knock off the puck and he has displayed extremely soft hands around the net.
Four of King's goals have come in the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Coyotes as he has managed to score in each of the three contests that have been played. He has become the nemesis of Coyotes goalie Mike Smith and is a thorn in the side of the 'Yotes in general.
Big players with skill tend to excel most when space is at a premium in the playoffs, so perhaps it shouldn't be a shock that King has been this good. Any time a rookie plays with such confidence, though, it's worth talking about.
The New Jersey Devils have had pretty much their entire roster pitch in to some degree in order to make it to the Eastern Conference finals, but forward Dainius Zubrus has probably picked up his play more than anyone.
The big Lithuanian has more playoff experience than just about anyone still playing and it has shown as he has been a threat in pretty much every facet. Not only has he been solid offensively with seven points, but he has been unbelievable defensively.
He is winning over 50 percent of his draws, killing penalties effectively and using his 6'5" frame to his advantage as he isn't afraid to fight along the boards and win puck battles.
Zubrus isn't the type of guy who is going to be lauded over during the regular season because his skill isn't always evident, but when it comes to going into the dirty areas and doing whatever it takes to win, Big Z is an unsung hero in every sense of the term.
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