The NHL Stanley Cup Finals are no different than any other championship.
Teams need big performances from big-name players to get there. To win, however, teams need all of the little things to go their way as well—even and especially performances from little-known players.
With a 2-0 series lead over the New Jersey Devils, the Los Angeles Kings are well on their way to winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Here are two potential unsung heroes that can help LA win two more games and hoist hockey's holy grail.
Brad Richardson's role and playing time has been less than consistent during his four years in Los Angeles. He was a healthy scratch in 14 games during a 19-game stretch earlier this season.
He said he is willing to do whatever it takes to stay in the Kings' Stanley Cup lineup. Most championship heroes don't have to worry about that.
Richardson missed the first two games of the opening-round series against the Vancouver Canucks following an emergency appendectomy. He came back to score the tying goal in the third period of Game 5. The Kings went on to win in overtime, clinching a trip to Round 2.
It was a nice moment in the spotlight for a player that makes most of his contributions unnoticed on the team's fourth line.
“He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s not afraid to go into dirty areas,” said fourth-line center Colin Fraser, according to an article by ESPN's Dan Arritt. “He’s not the guy putting guys into the third row, but he’s physical in the fact that he’s not afraid to be first on the puck.”
Richardson combines his top-line speed with his physicality, allowing him to arrive first on forecheck. There he can gain possession of the puck or disrupt the opponent’s clearing attempts.
Today's media glorifies game-winning goals. Richardson wasn't even noticed until his game-tying score against Vancouver. But while he is unlikely to save the day with another clutch goal, his efforts are nothing short of heroic in the grand scheme of his team's championship run.
The Kings cruised through the Western Conference's top squads in a show of force powered by their dominant forecheck. That doesn't happen without fourth-line grunt workers like Richardson. Now two games away from glory, they need him to finish the job.
Alec Martinez is a long shot to impact the Stanley Cup Finals—literally.
He averages less than 15 minutes a game after playing 51 games for the Kings during the regular season. His Game 2 assist was only his second point of the postseason.
This defenseman, however, is offensively minded and can contribute to a game-changing goal at a moment's notice. He demonstrated that much by helping out on Jeff Carter's overtime score to beat New Jersey in Game 2 for a commanding 2-0 series advantage.
Most of Martinez's points come from assists, but he's always capable of blasting a goal from the blue line.
Martinez produced 16 points in 20 games for the AHL Manchester Monarchs before joining the Kings earlier this season. His junior year at Miami University ended with 32 points in 42 games. Martinez may not steal the show—that's not his job—but he's both willing and able to help out.
If Game 2 was any indication, no moment is too big for this little known player. Don't be surprised if his name shows up on the score sheet again as the Kings close in on the cup.