During last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin made had a spot-on take with regards to the difference between the regular season and the playoffs.
"There are players that get you in the playoffs, and players that get you through the playoffs."
Bergevin was talking about the late season trade deadline additions he had made at the trade deadline, but he could have been talking about any sport, at any level. The history of sport has shown us time and time again that once the postseason rolls around, the usual suspects are often pushed aside by the surprise emergence of relatively unknown players who strive under the brightest of spotlights to solidify their place in the annals of their sport's history.
But then, there are the players who come out of absolutely nowhere to steal the show once the postseason rolls around.
A "surprise" playoff hero can emerge over several days or weeks, making their mark over an entire postseason, but most make their mark in one impactful swoop - a buzzer-beating three-pointer, a shocking overtime winning goal, or a 14th inning walk-off home-run. Either way, there's no denying their shockingly massive contribution to their teams' success.
As the playoffs go on in the NHL and NBA, we're already seeing the emergence of new heroes to add to the list of nobodies who become somebodies overnight. It's easy to root for the superstars of your favorite teams, but there's nothing quite like watching a role player step up in crunch time and give their team the boost needed to get over the hump during the most important time of the year.
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20 Malcolm Butler
What are the chances that two guys named Malcolm would make such significant impacts in back-to-back Super Bowls?
The first was linebacker Malcolm Smith, who was the MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII in the Seahawks blowout of the Denver Broncos two years ago. This past February it was Malcolm Butler who stole the show - and the Hawks chance at a repeat - with an incredible interception of Russell Wilson in the final seconds of the Patriots fourth Super Bowl victory since 2001. Butler was an undrafted free-agent playing in the shadow of Darrelle Revis and the rest of the vaunted New England defense, but it was Butler who stepped up to make the pivotal play that effectively won the game for New England.
19 Dale Weise
Midway through the 2013-2014 regular season, Dale Weise felt like a paper bag drifting through the wind in Vancouver. Head coach John Tortorella had relegated Weise to press-box hotdog-eating duty, and it didn't look like he was going to get a chance soon. Weise ended up being moved to Montreal for Raphael Diaz, which prompted many Habs fans to ask "who the heck is Dale Weise?"
Fast forward to today, and Weise is a household name in Montreal. He's solidified his status as a playoff performer with a Game 1 overtime winner in last season's first-round and followed that up with a virtuoso two-goal performance in Game 3 of the Canadiens first-round defeat of the Ottawa Senators.
Weise actually ended up winning the team's internal unsung hero award, and he's been justifying it ever since he arrived in Montreal just over a year ago.
18 Ozzie Smith
Ozzie Smith might seem like a peculiar name for this list, considering Smith played 19 seasons in the Major Leagues and is a member of the Hall of Fame. Smith lands on this list because this moment of glory may have been more improbable than many of the others on this list.
Smith was a switch hitter, but he was much more effective swinging right-handed. In Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS, Smith was up against right-hander Tom Niedenfuer, which pushed him to into his left-handed stance. Smith had never hit a home-run for that side of the plate - until that moment, when he cranked a walk-off home-run into the right field seats to give the Cardinals the series.
17 John Paxson
When you think of the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, you think of one name: Michael Jordan. It's hard to forget the supporting cast Jordan carried around with him during the Bulls two separate three-peats. What many tend to forget is that supporting cast had its fair share of surprise contributions, the most notable being John Paxson. Paxson was never regarded as much of a scorer, but in Game 6 of the 1993 Finals, Paxson might as well have been wearing number 23. He took a pass from Horrace Grant and drained a wide-open, uncontested three-pointer that stunned the Phoenix Suns home crowd and ultimately delivered the Bulls their the third championship of their first three-peat.
16 Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Giguere is the first of several National Hockey League goaltenders to land on this list, and with good reason - goalies often make or break their NHL careers come the postseason. Giguere lands on this list thanks to his shocking, incredible and almost unbelievable run during the 2002-2003 Stanley Cup playoffs. Gigure was coming off the best season of his young career, but no one could have predicted what he did during the then Mighty Ducks remarkable run to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Ducks lost in heartbreaking fashion to the New Jersey Devils in Game 7, but Giguere had been so good during that run that he won the Conn Smythe trophy regardless of the fact that he was on the losing team. Giguere's finished his nearly unprecedented playoff run with a 15-6 record, a 1.62 GAA and a sparkling .945 save percentage.
15 Gar Heard
We couldn't leave out the old guard, even if we tried. Gar Heard earned his stripes back in Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals between the Suns and the Celtics. The game was a tightly-contested a matchup as the sport has ever seen - it took three overtimes to settle it. The game wouldn't have gone to a third OT, though, without the heroics of Heard, who caught an inbound pass with a second remaining on the clock and hit a turnaround jumper to extend the epic battle. The Celtics ended up winning the game and the series, but Heard's moment will live on as one of the greatest moments in NBA playoff history.
14 Martin Gelinas
Martin Gelinas is never the first name that comes to mind when you think of big-time NHL scorers, but it should be one of the first that comes up when talking about the top playoff heroes of the past two decades.
Gelinas went through the 2003-2004 regular season with only 17 goals and 35 points, but he turned it on during the Flames run to the Stanley Cup Finals that spring, piling up 8 goals and 15 points, including three game-winners - all of which were also series-clinching goals.
13 Sterling Hitchcock
Sterling Hitchcock's name on its own is memorable in its own right, but in baseball circles he's better remembered for his remarkable performances during the 1998 San Diego Padres postseason run. The Padres ended up losing the World Series to the Yankees, but Hitchcock finished those playoffs with a 2-0 record, a 0.97 ERA and broke the record for strikeout rate in a postseason (a record that has since been broken) - impressive stuff for a guy who finished his career with a 74-76 record and a 4.80 ERA.
12 Ron Artest
You know this went down awhile ago, because Ron Artest is no longer known by that name. Before he became Metta World Peace and began attracting attention for all the wrong reasons, Artest was a very solid basketball player. Artest, for whatever reason, had been horrendous during the 2010 NBA Finals against the Celtics, but he came through in Game 7 with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 steals, including the game-sealing shot late in the contest, as the Lakers got their revenge from their arch nemesis.
11 Francisco Cabrera
It's hard to believe that a guy who only went to bat eleven times during the regular season in 1992 could possibly be considered a hero - let alone an Atlanta-area legend - but Francisco Cabrera managed to turn the trick. The '92 NLCS features the Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates. With the Braves down a run in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 and two outs on the board, Cabrera was called upon to pinch hit, and he delivered in that pinch, hitting a bases-loaded single to drive in two runs and clinch the series for Atlanta.
10 Maxime Talbot
Maxime Talbot is a well-respected NHL grinder, but there's a reason he's bounced around from team-to-team over the past couple of seasons - he's nothing more than a role player on the majority of NHL rosters.
Talbot's biggest contributions came out of nowhere during the 2008-2009 playoffs. After a pedestrian 12 goals and 22 points during the regular season, Talbot exploded for 8 goals and 13 points during the Penguins Stanley Cup run - none bigger than the two he scored in Game 7 of the Finals against Detroit, including the game-winner and Cup-clinching marker.
9 Fernando Pisani
While Dwayne Roloson was the undisputed backbone of the Edmonton Oilers miraculous run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2005-2006 season, Fernando Pisani was the "straw that stirred the drink". Pisani had a decent regular season with 18 goals and 37 points, but he made his mark that spring with a remarkable 14 goals (including 5 game winners) and 18 points, with the most memorable coming in overtime of Game 5 of the Finals against Carolina, which he scored short-handed with the Oilers down two men.
8 Aaron Boone
For a younger of generation of Yankee fans, Aaron Boone is one the names on a list of recent heroes that includes Derek Jeter, Mariano Riviera and several other Bronx Bombers who've helped carry The Evil Empire into the new millennium. Boone was never on the level of the aforementioned Hall of Famers, but for one fleeting moment in 2003, Aaron Boone was the king of New York.
Boone had been awful during the ALCS against the Red Sox, batting only .125 through the first six games. He was benched for Game 7, but got into the action as a pinch-runner late in the contest. In the bottom of the 11th, Boone was left in by Joe Torre to hit against Tim Wakefield, who had pitched well enough that series to earn MVP honors had Boston won. Boone made sure that didn't happen, though, as Boone took the first pitch he saw over the left-field wall for the series-clinching walk-off homer.
7 Cam Ward
The lore of relatively unknown goaltenders coming in and going on a magical streak runs deep in hockey history. Cam Ward is one of the more recent stories of backup goaltenders going from bench-warmer to hero over the span of a few months. Ward started the Hurricanes first round series on the bench, but when Martin Gerber faltered Ward stepped in and snatched the series away from the Montreal Canadiens and rode that wave of momentum all the way to the franchise's first and only Stanley Cup.
6 Larry Brown
No, we're not talking about legendary head coach Larry Brown. This Larry Brown was a relative unknown (considering he was a 12th round pick) on some of the Cowboys' dominant rosters during the 90s. When you think of possible Super Bowl MVP candidates from those teams, your mind immediately goes to Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith or Michael Irvin. In Super Bowl XXX (1995), it was Brown who stole the spotlight from the superstars, who intercepted two passes (both which eventually resulted in touchdowns) in the Cowboys 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
5 Ken Dryden
The long line of Montreal goaltending legends might start with the names Vezina, Hainsworth and Plante, but the name that arguably stands out above the rest is that of one Ken Dryden. A no-name rookie from Cornell, Dryden has handed the reins to the Habs crease during the 1971 playoffs. The Canadiens were up against a vaunted Bruins roster that was expected to roll through the league en route to the Stanley Cup. Dryden had other plans, stunning the Bruins and leading the Habs to an unexpected championship and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy - all of this a full year before he won the Calder Trophy as the league's rookie of the year.
4 Vernon Perry
Vernon Perry lasted several seasons in the NFL after coming up from Canada (he played with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL) - but he was never considered a top-end safety. Perry played like the defensive player of the year during the Houston Oilers 1979 playoff matchup, though, picking off San Diego's Dan Fouts four times and blocking a field goal in a Herculian performance to help the Oilers to a tightly-contested victory. Not bad for a former CFLer!
3 Timmy Smith
The Washington Redskins went into Super Bowl XLII deprived of their starting running back, George Rogers, which thrust rookie Timmy Smith into his first NFL start under the brightest spotlight of them all. Smith not only rose to the challenge - he shattered expectations and dominated the Denver Broncos, rushing for 204 yards and two touchdowns in the Redskins 42-10 victory. Smith was a flash in the pan, as he was out of the NFL a couple of seasons later, but his remarkable performance will remain a focal point in the Redskins history books.
2 David Tyree
David Tyree has since lost his spot on an NFL roster - which goes to show the cutthroat nature of the business - but he likely has a free ride at any bar or restaurant in the New York area for the rest of his life, thanks to "The Catch." Tyree was more a special teams ace than he was a wide receiver, but with the Giants down to the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, the Giants were forced to throw and throw often, throwing out more receivers onto the field in the hopes of gaining chunk yardage. The Tyree catch never happens without Eli Manning's miraculous escape for the Patriots pass rush, but the Giants don't win that game without Tyree's improbable helmet catch, which is arguably the most iconic Super Bowl play of all-time.
1 Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy did plenty to solidify his reputation as an NHL legend over the course of his Hall of Fame career, but it all began with his incredible performance during the 1986 playoffs as a rookie with the Montreal Canadiens.
Roy had been average at best during the regular season, finishing his rookie campaign with 23 wins and a 3.35 GAA, but he stonewalled everyone in his path during the postseason with 15 wins and 1.92 GAA, helping the Canadiens to their 23rd Stanley Cup in perhaps the most unlikeliest of ways.
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