Coming Through in the Clutch: The NHL's Most Surprising Playoff Performances of 2009
Every year in the playoffs there are certain players on a team that will come out of nowhere and shock the league with an outstanding performance.
This season is no different. Many players who, before the playoffs began, were not expected to be a top player on their team. But they have shown that they can come out of the weeds at the right time—and have their respective coaches thanking the gods of hockey that they signed them.
Whether it’s a player coming back from injury, a player who isn't known for his scoring ability, or a seemingly-minor deadline acquisition that turns out to be great, a Stanley Cup-winning team usually has a player or two that fits into this category, because without significant contributions from more than just the star players, the postseason is usually a short one for that team.
Here now is a list of the top playoff performers that have showed us they can play at a high level when it matters most, no matter what the name on the back of the jersey is.
Jonas Hiller - Anahiem Ducks
His playoff run may have already come to an end in Round Two, but Jonas Hiller's name still sits atop the standings for save percentage with .943.
Hiller performed incredibly under pressure in the first two rounds of the playoffs this year, with Conn Smythe- and Stanley Cup-winning backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere watching closely from the bench.
He shocked the league when he brought San Jose's season to an abrupt halt, and then slugged it out in the second round with the defending champs, the Detroit Red Wings, taking them all the way to Game Seven.
Hiller and the Ducks were the underdog story of the playoffs, finishing the season in eighth place, and forced to face the Western Conference's best two teams in the first two rounds.
Anaheim, on the shoulders of Hiller, nearly got past them both.
After playing in 46 games in the regular season, going 23-15-5 in those tilts, it may not have been a shock to see him protecting the net for the Ducks in the playoffs. But to see him perform the way he did against the formidable opponents coming at him every shift was certainly surprising.
He proved not only to his team, but to the entire league, that he is here to stay—and no matter the situation, with Hiller in net, you've always got a chance to win.
Dan Cleary - Detroit Red Wings
There are a lot of players one would name that would be expected to sit in the top ten in playoffs scoring.
Dan Cleary wouldn't make most people's top 100 list.
But going into the Stanley Cup Finals, Mr. Cleary sits tied for tenth in scoring with 14 points.
If that doesn't surprise you enough, try this on for size. Dan Cleary is third on the team in both goals and points in the playoffs.
Still not surprising enough? Well, how about this: Cleary has more goals then Marian Hossa and Pavel Datsyuk combined.
If that doesn't shock you, nothing will.
Not only has he stepped up for his team when they need him most, but he is outshining some of the brightest stars on not only the Red Wings, but in the NHL.
After becoming the first player from Newfoundland to ever win the Stanley Cup in 2008, then used mainly for his defensive awareness, Cleary looks to continue the Cup-winning trend—this time as an offensive weapon.
Simeon Varlamov - Washington Capitals
Something tells me you had not heard of Simeon Varlamov before the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, never mind knew how to pronounce his name.
But after Jose Theodore gave a less than stellar performance in Game One against the New York Rangers, Varlamov got the call from then on—and boy, did he step up to the challenge.
He kept his team in games that they should have been blown out in, and even when he faced a 3-1 deficit to the Rangers, he never gave up and stole the show, lifting them past New York and into the second round.
He finished the playoffs with a solid .918 SV% and 2.53 GAA in the 13 games he played. And even though his performance in Game Seven against the Penguins was not anything to boast about, the 21-year old showed everyone that he could steal the show even on a team that is full of show-stealers.
He had only played six games in the regular season for the Caps, and was largely unknown by anyone outside of Washington. The fact that he could barely put together a sentence in English limited his popularity before the playoffs as well.
But whether he can speak the language or not, I have a strange feeling that his lightning-quick saves will be leaving us all speechless for years to come.
Jussi Jokinen - Carolina Hurricanes
His performance in the 2008-2009 regular season was hardly worth mentioning.
Through 46 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning he had six goals and 16 points.
Then he was put on waivers.
The Carolina Hurricanes picked him up right around the trade deadline in hopes he would serve the purpose of filling a roster spot and playing solid defensively. He added one goal and ten assists in the 25 games he played with the team.
Come playoff time, though, the Hurricanes were in for a pleasant surprise.
In their 18 games, Jokinen racked up seven goals and 11 points. That goal total matched his output for the entire season. And of those seven goals, three were of the game-winner variety, including the jaw-dropping tally with 0.2 seconds left—the latest regulation goal scored in NHL playoff history—in Game Four against New Jersey.
He was also responsible for the game-tying goal in Game Seven in New Jersey with 1:20 left in the game. That set the stage for Eric Staal's game, and series, clinching goal mere seconds later.
Needless to say, Jokinen was Carolina's most clutch player this post-season, and they would not have gotten as far as they did without him.
From a throw-away player on Tampa to the most important member of the Carolina Hurricanes when the game was on the line, Jussi Jokinen was certainly a surprise in the 2009 NHL Playoffs.
Valtteri Filppula - Detroit Red Wings
To see a member of the Detroit Red Wings perform at an extremely high level every night is not something that shocks the everyday hockey fan.
But the fact that Valtteri Filppula has been one of, if not the most, consistent Red Wing throughout the playoffs can certainly be considered a surprise.
Through the 16 games so far he has 14 points, (1 G, 13 A) and has become the resident set-up man for the Wings. His speed off the wing and ability to find the open man has always been apart of his game, but he has taken it to a new level in the past month.
He had a solid 40-point season (12 G, 28 A) in 2008-2009, and early in the year was rewarded with a five-year extension on his contract. The Wings obviously knew his contributions were needed, but the way he has played through the first three rounds has proved that their decision to sign him long-term was a good one.
Just another Red Wing exceeding expectations while on the road to a Stanley Cup Final once again—surprise, surprise.
Brent Seabrook - Chicago Blackhawks
With all the young, offensive talent on the Chicago Blackhawks you might be surprised to see who finished fourth in scoring during the playoffs on the team.
Brent Seabrook? Good guess.
Not only was he constantly throwing around his body and blocking shots in his own zone, but he became a potent weapon with shots from the point.
His one goal and 11 assists through 17 playoff games were almost half his offensive output (8 G, 26 P) from the 82 regular-season games he participated in.
He outplayed his fellow defensemen like the much talked about Brian Campbell, who has years of playoff experience, and Duncan Keith, who was at some points invisible on the ice.
Surprisingly enough he even had more points than Patrick Sharp, who was the one member of the team who seemed to show up every game and play a significant role on the score sheet.
Needless to say, the 'Hawks have a bright future at both ends of the ice—but if there is one defender the team should make sure stays in Chicago, it should be Brent Seabrook.
Chris Osgood - Detroit Red Wings
Admit it—after a less than stellar regular season (.887 SV%, 3.09 GAA) for the three-time Stanley Cup winner, you thought Chris Osgood was going to have a tough time in the playoffs living up to previous playoff performances; I certainly did.
The fact that his age might finally be catching up with him, or that he has been hiding behind an unbelievable team stock-piled with future hall-of-famers for the past few seasons was a hot topic early on–and frankly, the haters haven’t stopped hating since.
Well, not only has the veteran netminder played incredible played very well in the first three rounds, he is in the top five in almost every statistical category. His .925 SV% (fourth) and 2.06 GAA (second) are impressive and rival the best numbers he has had in the playoffs during his lengthy career.
He was criticized for his play coming into the playoffs and constantly questioned about his play throughout each round, but he has stood tall and continues to strive to be number one in the only statistic that really matters: