Players who are under the radar often find opportunities to step their game up during these riveting, do-or- die games in the postseason. Let's be honest, all psychic powers aside, very few of us would have predicted that Martin Gelinas would score the series deciding goal in three different series during the Calgary Flames' 2004 magical Stanley Cup run, or that Fernando Pisani would be the 2006 playoff leading goal scorer.
However, there are dark horses every year, and some of these players could be silently scheming their path of destruction. Here are my top 10 "Under the Radar" players who could create major impacts in the playoffs.
Curtis Glencross has always been a consistent and reliable energy player, and lately he is turning into quite the goal scorer with 22 goals on the season so far. He has explosive speed, and unlike many fast players in the league, he has a finishing touch and often converts on breakaways. His physical style may be exactly what the Flames need if they make the playoffs.
He hits, he scores, and he is certainly tough enough to handle the brutality of postseason battles. With Jerome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen, all probably being the main focus of opposing defenses, look for the high-flying Curtis Glencross to take matters into his own hands.
Very much like Glencross, Raffi Torres relies on his energy to be an effective player for his team. This season, he has been a very good third line player for the Vancouver Canucks and can already be counted on to when the scoring lines are cold. The Canucks are arguably the deepest team in the NHL and Torres is one of those character players that can rub salt into the wounds of the opposition.
Raffi, however, has always been known for his inconsistency, but it can be assured that when it comes down to games that matter, he will be at his best. Not only is he another scoring option, but also a physical threat if you're not watching out for him.
Refer to the 2006 playoffs for proof.
While he will probably be splitting time with fellow teammate goalie Michal Neuvirth, Semyon Varlamov could be the go-to-guy if he is healthy during the playoffs. Varlamov is arguably the most underrated goalie in the NHL right now, and this might be because he has been injured for long stretches throughout the last two seasons. He was, however, spectacular in his 24 starts this season as he held a .923 save percentage and 2.27 GAA.
Of the three goaltenders the Washington Capitals have been cycling, Varly is the only one with playoff experience as his NHL debut involved carrying the Caps through the first round in 2009. Coach Bruce Boudreau looks like he has created a healing spring for his players, so expect that Varlamov will be in top shape for the playoffs.
On an already defensive Washington team, Varlamov could be the difference maker in the Capitals' quest for glory.
This might be the most under the radar defenseman in the NHL right now. Not only does Toni Lydman put up decent numbers as a defender consistently, but he also has a tremendous amount of playoff experience. Lydman has appeared in at least two conference finals and one Stanley Cup finals and played an integral part of his teams' success.
More astonishingly, no one really talks about him, but yet he currently leads the NHL in +/- with a +32, and on a team that is seventh in goals against (GA) in the Western Conference, he maintains a +22 lead over the second place player on his team in the +/- department.
His defensive numbers speak for themself, so look for this man to be a major obstacle for opponents if the Ducks do hold their playoff spot.
Following his early season suspension, James Wisniewski has been on fire. While he is starting to get some recognition, most people do not realize how much of an offensive threat he is on even-strength. Ever since being traded to the Montreal Canadiens, Wisniewski has recorded 26 points in 35 games as a defender and holds a +5 rating.
With the Habs already depleted on defense, and with Andrei Markov out for the season, the talent of the team's defensive sector lies in the work of P.K. Subban and James Wisniewski, with Subban receiving most of the media attention surrounding Montreal.
For many years, I never thought that I would ever imagine a Red Wing on an "Under the Radar" list, but Detroit has produced a few dark horses in their recent Stanley Cup runs. Players such as Johan Franzen and Dan Clearly turned into outrageously effective players in the 2008 and the 2009 playoffs. Darren Helm turned some heads in 2009, as well. Helm is a workhorse with amazing speed and work ethic, and a wicked shot at times, but continues to remain low key during the regular season.
Clearly, it will be hard to see any spotlight or attention when there are all-around hockey legends such as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom in the lineup, but expect that Helm will make his presence felt through the duration of the playoffs.
While he may be off the scoring list due to his lack of pure talent, Joel Ward is a heart and soul player, who does not take one second of ice time for granted. He is a role player for the Nashville Predators and sometimes these are the guys that teams turn to when the going gets tough.
In fact, the 2003 Anaheim Ducks, 2004 Calgary Flames, and 2006 Edmonton Oilers were composed mainly of players like Ward. He is a great forechecker, team player, and would probably find a way to play as a defender if need being.
In his brief playoff experience, he has four points in six career playoff games. If the Preds do make the playoffs and go on a run, expect this man to be an integral part of it.
Throughout his career, Michael Ryder has been a mediocre winger at best but always seems to come out of nowhere when it matters the most. Ryder is a solid postseason performer who has often filled in a depth position on a playoff team. In 2009, Ryder recorded 13 points in the Bruin's 11 playoff games and suddenly became the go-to guy during those first two rounds.
He is always ready to step his game up at important moments and releases a lethal shot when least expected. If the Bruins meet the Canadiens in the first round again, expect him to come out firing on all cylinders against his former team.
Among the lines of the Boston Bruins is their emerging young forward, Brad Marchand. You know your team is deep when your checking line center is a goal scoring threat even before the playoffs have started. The Bruins have so many offensive weapons who can stand their ground that opposing teams may be exhausted just containing the top two lines.
Marchand, like many of his teammates, plays a solid two-way game and is on pace to score over 20 goals this year. With bruisers like Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and Zdeno Chara already reputed as juggernauts of destruction and physical nightmares to playoff opposition, Brad Marchand adds even more torture, as he has the agitating qualities to be Boston's Sean Avery, plus he can backcheck and score.
Last but not least is a player who's seen his team reach the Stanley Cup finals in all of his last three seasons and received quality mentoring from the Western Conference elites. Tomas Kopecky is certainly no stranger to the postseason. Playing on a combination of the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks over the past few years will definitely give you the knowledge and training needed to understand the procedure of victory.
Kopecky is also putting up career numbers this season with 40 points in 71 games so far. He is on pace to double his career high regular season numbers. He can play any position; he has good size, good talent, and good defensive instincts. These are three qualities that every team strives to see in their forwards during the playoffs.
With the way Kopecky's development process is going, this could be the year that he shapes up to be the player that the Blackhawks could use to fill some of the void created by the departure of quality forwards from last season's championship team.
The Phoenix Coyotes continue to surprise day in and day out, as they come closer to clinching their second consecutive playoff berth. To many, it is still a mystery as to how this team sits currently in the top four with the lineup that they have. Whether the factors lie in veterans such as Ray Whitney or Shane Doan, or emerging talent such as Keith Yandle or Kyle Turris, or superstar goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, this team will continue their success under the radar.
Many of the players on the Coyotes were claimed off waivers or acquired through minor trades; however, they have been able to mesh and create this masterpiece that has been able to consistently win, win, and win, no matter what. It is truly marvelous what Dave Tippett has done with this team, and they should not be taken for granted come playoffs.