The San Jose Sharks shocked many a year ago, making their way to the Western Conference Finals before falling to the Chicago Blackhawks. Even with the sweep, San Jose went a long way in shedding the playoff-underachiever label, but still carried the stigma into this season.
San Jose has had a memorable season filled with dramatics and remarkable stories of redemption. Entering the playoffs, having played playoff-style hockey since late January, San Jose stormed up the standings and into the playoffs.
In the eye of a media hurricane and doubt, the Sharks stars stood up and shined in the season’s biggest game.
But nobody won a Stanley Cup without the unheralded contributions and players that often go unnoticed by fans or mainstream media. And on a team like San Jose that boasts such All-Star-caliber talent, it's pretty easy to get "lost in the shuffle" as it were.
It doesn't take anything away from their performances or contributions, however, as these guys are just as important as any Shark in the playoffs.
Here are the five most-unheralded postseason players for the San Jose Sharks.
After being scratched in the Kings series following his fight with Kyle Clifford, the Sharks have missed his speed and size.
San Jose’s fourth line has been victimized in his absence, both in the Kings series as well as against the deeper Red Wings.
While it may be a bit much to ask for contributions out of the three-to-five minutes of ice time, you can’t be a liability either and that’s exactly what the fourth line is for the Sharks without Eager.
He stuck up for Ian White on the Jarrett Stoll boarding play, defended Dany Heatley in the Red Wings series and head coach Todd McLellan sat him in response.
The Sharks need his size, grit, speed and, most importantly, his championship experience, especially against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Swede has elevated his play this year, and had a strong offensive performance against the Detroit Red Wings. The oft-criticized defenseman has validated San Jose GM Doug Wilson’s decision to keep Wallin in teal, and Wallin scored yet another postseason game-winner in the semifinals.
Collecting 15 hits in the Detroit series, with nine blocked shots and the game-winning goal in Game 2, Wallin has shown he’s got the tools to contribute for San Jose.
He’s still had some forgettable moments, including the horrific minus-3 in Game 5, and must steady his play in the defensive zone for San Jose.
Some will say Clowe can’t be unheralded considering the fact he leads the Sharks in postseason scoring, but he’s definitely flown under the radar of late.
Given all the attention Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton received during the latter half of the Red Wings series, Ryane Clowe is still quietly leading this team on the ice.
Recording six assists in the semifinals against Detroit, Clowe was a huge part of the Sharks' second-line dominance in Game 1 and 2.
It's no small coincedence that Clowe missed Game 6 against Detroit, and the Sharks put up their worst performance of the postseason.
You can point to his huge goals against the Kings, or that he leads the Sharks in plus/minus with a plus-4 against the Red Wings, but Clowe’s true worth is in his leadership and play.
The Sharks wouldn’t be where they are without his leadership, and it could lead them to their first Stanley Cup Finals ever.
Logan Couture isn’t just building on his postseason performance a year ago. Instead, he’s trying to put the bar of performance for a Sharks rookie into the upper stratosphere.
He’s nearly averaging a point a game this postseason and clearly enjoys playing against the Red Wings and Jimmy Howard. Scoring four goals and three assists, with five takeaways and tied for lead with 27 shots in the semifinals, Couture is playing like a Stanley Cup vet.
More to the point, however, he’s showing his tremendous work ethic and hockey smarts by being around the puck constantly.
From his huge steal and setup pass in Game 4 against the Kings, to the jaw-dropping steal and score against Henrik Zetterberg in Game 7 against the Red Wings, Couture is giving Sharks clutch play when it’s needed most.
He’s also giving the fans plenty of reason to smile about the not-so-far off Thornton-less future.
White has been the glue to the Sharks' defensive corps this season after arriving from the Carolina Hurricanes shortly before the trade deadline.
While this trade was met with lukewarm responses from the Sharks faithful, White has made the single biggest unheralded difference for San Jose this postseason.
Listed as the third pair, both White and Wallin have essentially displaced Demers-Vlasic, taking on second-pair minutes. This factor cannot be underestimated on a team that has long depended on 30 minutes from Dan Boyle this season.
Make no mistake, Ian White’s presence gives Boyle the rest he needs to succeed for the Sharks. After struggling against the Kings, Boyle turned it around against Detroit with two goals and six assists while averaging four fewer minutes a night.
Another dangerous right-handed shot on the second power-play unit, White also brings mobility and puck-moving ability to a blueline sorely lacking those very things.
White gives the Sharks improved continuity and a better breakout, and his hockey sense pays big dividends for the Sharks at the point.