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NHL Playoffs: 12 Most Surprising Performances in Stanley Cup Finals History

Ryan DavenportContributor IJanuary 7, 2017

NHL Playoffs: 12 Most Surprising Performances in Stanley Cup Finals History

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    Each year, legends are born during the Stanley Cup Finals, as players leave lasting impressions with their performances on hockey's grandest stage.  

    Though the vast majority of the postseason heroes end up being the usual suspects like superstars, captains or franchise goaltenders, there have been exceptions to that rule.

    In recent NHL history, a number of players previously regarded as grinders, role players or journeymen who have seized the moment, and become household names due to their game-winning goals, show-stopping saves or timely sacrifices that helped keep their teams' postseason aspirations alive.  

    With that in mind, here's a look at the top 12 most surprising performances in recent Stanley Cup Finals history.  

12. Ville Leino

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    Heading into the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Ville Leino had skated in a grand total of 68 regular season games, and having collected just 20 points during that span, the Philadelphia Flyers didn't exactly have the gritty Finn pegged as an offensive dynamo.  

    In fact, Philadelphia had Leino tabbed as a healthy scratch until Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter went down with injuries, and it was then that the 26-year old rookie announced his arrival to the rest of the NHL.  

    Through the first three rounds of the Playoffs, Leino, skating alongside Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell, scored 12 points in 13 games, helping the Flyers reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1997.  

    Once they got there, Leino was even better, scoring three goals and nine points in just six games.  Though the Flyers ultimately fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in heartbreaking fashion, Leino set an NHL record for assists by a rookie in a Finals series with six.  

11. Eric Desjardins

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    In the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, the Montreal Canadiens steamrolled over the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings in five games, but if not for Eric Desjardins' performance in Game 2, it could have been a different series entirely.  

    After the Kings took Game 1 decisively, L.A. was cruising towards a 2-0 series lead late in Game 2 when the Habs caught a lucky break, as Marty McSorley was penalized for using an illegal stick late in the third period. 

    Entering the game, Desjardins had a single goal through Montreal's first 16 postseason games, but that all changed in a hurry.  After scoring the Canadiens first goal of the game, Desjardins added his second goal on the power play with moments remaining in regulation.  

    In overtime, Desjardins completed the comeback, by scoring his third of the night, swinging the momentum in Montreal's favor for good, and capturing an NHL record as he became the first and only defenseman to score a hat trick in a Stanley Cup Finals game.  

10. Petr Klima

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    In Game 1 of the 1990 Stanley Cup Finals, the Edmonton Oilers and Boston Bruins battled late into the Massachusetts night, as the teams sat deadlocked at two heading into overtime.  

    One overtime passed, then two, and neither team could find the back of the net.  The game became a marathon, and though the players on each side began to tire, one Edmonton Oiler in particular had yet to see the ice heading into the third overtime period.

    Then, suddenly in triple overtime, Oilers coach John Muckler tapped Petr Klima on the shoulder and told him to head out for his first shift of the evening.  It didn't take long for Klima to make his presence felt, as he scored at 15:13 of the third overtime, ending the longest game in Stanley Cup Finals history.  

    That record still stands today, but more importantly, Klima's goal helped the Oilers capture their fifth Stanley Cup in seven years.  

9. Alex Tanguay

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    In the game of hockey, there's no bigger stage than a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, as it's the ultimate do-or-die scenario for both teams involved.  

    In the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals, the Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils battled hard, and after the Avs won in the Meadowlands to force a decisive Game 7, a hero was set to emerge in Denver.  

    Though second-year forward Alex Tanguay posted an impressive 77 points during the regular season playing alongside former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Joe Sakic, he wasn't exactly considered a go-to guy on the offensive juggernaut that was the 2000-01 Colorado Avalanche.  

    Nonetheless, in Game 7, Tanguay potted the game's first two goals, staking the Avalanche to a lead that the defending champion Devils ultimately weren't able to overcome.  

    After putting the Avs up by two in the second period, Tanguay set up Joe Sakic's power play goal under five minutes later to give Colorado a 3-0 lead, which sealed Colorado's second title in five years, and the first of Ray Bourque's decorated career.  

8. Dustin Byfuglien

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    In the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Dustin Byfuglien announced his arrival to the rest of the league by scoring eight goals and 10 points through the first three rounds of the postseason, after notching just 34 points during the regular season for the Blackhawks.  

    Heading into the Finals, the oversized winger, who had played defense for much of the year, was considered to be one of Chicago's top offensive threats, but was largely neutralized by Philadelphia's Chris Pronger during the early stages of the series.  

    However, in Game 5, with the series knotted up at two games apiece, Byfuglien was the difference, as he tallied two goals and two assists, lifting Chicago to a 7-4 win, giving the 'Hawks an opportunity to close out the series in Philadelphia in Game 6.  

    There, Byfuglien came through once again, scoring the game's opening goal, helping the Blackhawks to a 4-3 win, and the franchise's first Stanley Cup since 1961.  

    Overall, "Big Buff" finished with three goals and six points on the series, and lead Chicago with 11 postseason goals, forever etching his name in Stanley Cup Finals history.  

7. Brad Marchand

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    The 2011 Stanley Cup Finals was one of the strangest postseason series in recent memory, as the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins battled for seven games despite the fact that Boston outscored the Canucks by a 23-8 margin.  

    Ultimately, Vancouver's Roberto Luongo was overwhelmed by the Bruins' offense, which scored by committee throughout the series, lead by an extremely unlikely diminutive forward.

    During the regular season, Brad Marchand had posted a respectable 21 goals and 41 points in 77 games, but the undersized winger exploded during the postseason for 11 goals and 19 points in 25 games, and the gritty Quebecer was at his best during the Finals.  

    After the Bruins dropped the first two games of the series, Marchand and the Bruins rebounded in the following two contests, winning by a combined score of 12-1, with Marchand chipping in a goal in each.  

    In Game 6, Marchand scored his third of the series, but it was nothing compared to his performance in the all-important Game 7, as the rookie notched two goals and an assist to help Boston to a 4-0 win and the franchise's first Cup in nearly four decades.  

6. Patrick Roy

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    Today, Patrick Roy is regarded by many as the greatest goaltender ever to play in the National Hockey League, but in 1985-86, he was an unproven rookie netminder looking to make a name for himself as a member of hockey's most storied franchise.  

    After playing in 47 regular season games (and going just 23-18-3), Roy was tabbed as the Montreal Canadiens' starter for the postseason.  The 20-year old butterfly goalie didn't disappoint, as Roy went 11-4, leading the Habs to an extremely unexpected berth in the 1986 Stanley Cup Finals.  

    Though Roy and the Canadiens dropped the first game of the Finals to the Calgary Flames, the rookie was spectacular the rest of the way, giving up just eight goals over the course of the next four games, as Montreal dominated Calgary en route to the franchise's 22nd Stanley Cup.  

    For his efforts, Roy captured his first of three Conn Smythe trophies, and put on one of the most dominant Stanley Cup Finals performances ever by a freshman.   

5. Fernando Pisani

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    During Edmonton's shocking run to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, the Oilers needed herculean contributions from a collection of unlikely sources to topple Western Conference powerhouses Detroit and San Jose, before breezing by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the Conference Finals.  

    Once they reached the Finals, the Oilers' most valuable player up until that point, Dwayne Roloson, went down with a series-ending injury, and Edmonton looked to Fernando Pisani, another journeyman, to lead the way.  

    Though Pisani's regular season totals that year were far from paltry, as the 30-year-old managed a career year with 18 goals and 37 points, his postseason was a completely different story.  During Edmonton's first three series, Pisani potted nine goals and three assists, but his performance at the 2006 Finals was even better.  

    After scoring his tenth of the postseason in the series' opening game, Pisani went scoreless for the following three games as Edmonton fell behind in the series three games to one.  

    In Game 5, Pisani was the hero, as he kept Edmonton's Cup dreams afloat by scoring a shorthanded breakaway goal in overtime to force a Game 6.  In the following game, Pisani was at his best once more, notching a goal and an assist to help the Oilers stay alive once again.  

    In the end, though the Oilers fell in Game 7, Pisani was not to blame, as he added his league-leading 14th of the postseason, closing the book on one of the most shocking performances in NHL history.  

4. Ruslan Fedotenko

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    Though Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards was widely regarded as the clutch goal scorer that lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 2004, it was a much lesser known light who helped lift the Bolts over the Calgary Flames when they needed it most.  

    In Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, it wasn't Richards, Martin St. Louis or franchise player Vincent Lecavalier who provided the offense.  Instead, it was 25-year old Ukranian forward Ruslan Fedotenko who stole the show.  

    In the first period, with the game scoreless, Fedotenko found the back of the net with just over six minutes remaining in the frame, giving the Bolts an all-important lead heading into the first intermission.  

    Late in the second period, Vincent Lecavalier put on a clinic, making moves deep in Calgary's end with three Flames draped all over him.  Just when Lecavalier appeared to be off-balance, he found a wide open Fedotenko in the high slot, who rifled the puck by Miikka Kiprusoff to give the Bolts a 2-0 lead.  

    Since then, Fedotenko has been a part of a second Cup-winning team, but he'll always be best remembered for that magical two-goal Game 7 outing in Tampa Bay.   

3. Darren McCarty

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    The 1997 Stanley Cup Final wasn't exactly a close series, as the Detroit Red Wings swept the heavily favored, Eric Lindros-led Flyers in four games.  In order to finally capture the city's first Cup in 42 years though, the Wings needed a breathtaking effort from one of the team's unsung heroes in the deciding game of the series.  

    After Nick Lidstrom gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead with less than a minute remaining in the first period, Detroit looked to build on that advantage in the second.  With about seven minutes left in the second, Darren McCarty, a member of the Wings' checking line, took a pass at his own blue line, and with only one Philadelphia defenseman back, he eyed his opportunity.  

    As McCarty crossed the blue line, Flyers' defenseman Janne Niinimaa appeared to step up on the gritty winger as he began to make a forehand fake.  Anticipating Niinimaa's play, McCarty swiftly cut to the backhand, forcing Niinimaa to fall, and creating an uncontested path to the the Philadelphia net.  As he approached the net, he deftly pulled the puck around goaltender Ron Hextall, and slid the puck into the wide open net, giving Detroit an insurmountable 2-0 lead.  

    The goal turned out to be the Cup-winning goal, and easily the most memorable of the entire postseason, and it was all the more special due to the fact that it ended Hockeytown's four-decade-long Stanley Cup drought.  

2. Max Talbot

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    In the 2008-09 regular season, Maxime Talbot posted a grand total of 12 goals and 10 assists in 75 games, so heading into the Playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins weren't counting on him to be one of their top offensive performers.  

    However, throughout his career, Talbot has demonstrated an uncanny ability for rising to the occasion in clutch situations, as evidenced by his back-to-back Guy Lafleur Trophies as the QMJHL's Playoff MVP during his junior days.  

    In the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, Talbot was at his best, as he notched two goals in Game 3 for the Penguins, in addition to an assist on Tyler Kennedy's game-winning goal in Game 6. Though his six goals and 11 points heading into Game 7 of the Finals were impressive, nothing could prepare the hockey world for what was to come in the biggest contest of the year.  

    Just one minute into the second period of the Pens' decisive game against the defending champion Red Wings, Talbot took a pass from Evgeni Malkin and one-timed a shot by Chris Osgood to give Pittsburgh the lead.  

    Nine minutes later, Talbot duplicated the feat, this time snapping a beautifully placed shot just under the crossbar on a two-on-one rush to stake the Penguins to a two-goal lead midway through the second frame.  

    Though the Wings would score midway through the third period to cut the lead to one, Talbot's heroics stood as the difference, and the Penguins captured their first Cup since 1992.  Even though Talbot was vilified for leaving the Penguins for the rival Flyers in the summer of 2011, he'll remain a legend in Pittsburgh for his Cup-winning efforts in 2009.  

1. John LeClair

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    Before John LeClair made his name as one of the greatest American-born scorers of all-time skating alongside Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg on Philadelphia's vaunted "Legion of Doom" line, the Vermont native was a middling young forward on a superb Montreal Canadiens team in the 1993 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  

    During the 1992-93 season, LeClair's first full year with the Habs, the power forward scored 19 goals and 44 points, but drew the ire of Montreal's fans because he didn't appear to be living up to his potential offensively.  

    Despite posting a respectable two goals and eight points through the first three rounds of the postseason, LeClair was largely a forgotten man throughout much of the Habs Cup run, that is, until the Stanley Cup Finals.  

    In Game 3 of the Finals, Montreal jumped out to a 3-0 lead, only to see it evaporate in the third period as the Kings forced overtime.  In the extra session, LeClair played the role of the hero, as he potted a rebound 34 seconds in to give the Habs a two games to one series lead.  

    A game later, LeClair was thrust into the spotlight again.  Just as they had in Game 3, the Canadiens got out to an early multi-goal lead on the Kings, but again L.A. refused to quit, as they tied the game at two and forced overtime.  

    Just as he did in Game 2, LeClair scored the overtime winner, giving the Habs a stranglehold on the series which they never relinquished.  Though Patrick Roy will go down as the hero of the 1993 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Canadiens wouldn't have won the franchise's 23rd Stanley Cup without the help of a largely unknown American winger, who became the first player in Finals history to score consecutive overtime winning goals.  

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