The NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs are a unique beast. With 16 teams competing, each needing to win four seven-game series to hoist hockey’s holy grail, heroes are bound to be made. Hockey is different than other pro sports in that a team’s best player only gets to play about a third of the game. Because of this, a good team must deploy four deep lines of forwards and three solid defensive pairings. Since a team’s best defensemen are often matched up with the opposition’s top line in a shutdown role during the playoffs, it is usually an unheralded third or fourth-liner who plays hero. Some of the names on this list are career-long All-Stars, some are known as being clutch playoff performers throughout their time in the NHL, and some are just known for their heroics in one or two series. No matter what their story is, each of these NHLers have been recognized as “playoff heroes” at some point during their careers. Their efforts will be discussed within this list, as well as what each has done in their post-playing days. Enjoy.
15. Patrick Roy
Roy is one of the best goaltenders to ever play the game, so calling him a “playoff hero” is not doing him justice, as he was really a hero his entire career. The Quebec City native is also one of the winningest goalies of all time, second only to Martin Brodeur in regular season wins. However, “Saint Patrick” holds the all-time lead in both playoff games played and playoff wins. He won cups with two different teams – two with the Montreal Canadiens and two with the Colorado Avalanche. Roy is also the only puck-stopper in league history to win THREE Conn Smythe trophies as playoff MVP.
Since Roy’s retirement, he has stuck with the game he dominated. After achieving success in the QMJHL with the Quebec Remparts as their owner, GM, and coach, he became the Colorado Avalanche’s coach in 2013. He won the Jack Adams award as the NHL’s best coach after navigating the Avs to a surprise playoff appearance in 2014. Since stepping down as coach before this season, Roy has kept fairly quiet, but recently announced his intent to buy an ownership stake in the Avalanche in the near future.
14. Fernando Pisani
Pisani was a Canadian-born NHL right winger who played the majority of his career with his hometown team, the Edmonton Oilers. He was drafted in the 1996 NHL entry draft to the Oilers after posing an astonishing 103 points in 58 games with the St. Albert Saints. A few years later, when Pisani was already 27, he was finally called up from the Oilers’ AHL affiliate. The Oilers made the playoffs as the final seed in the Western Conference and launched an extraordinary run to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. In the process, Pisani became a hero. He scored goal after goal during the playoffs – 14 in 24 games – and, importantly, scored a shorthanded goal in the fifth game with the Oilers facing elimination. This was documented as the first time in Stanley Cup Finals history that an overtime game was decided by a shorthanded goal.
After this Cinderella story, Pisani returned to being a relatively average player and retired in 2011, winning a battle brief battle with ulcerative colitis. He became the assistant coach of the University of Alberta men’s Golden Bears hockey team. The WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings also reached out to Pisani, when they were looking for offensive help, and Pisani has since become a development coach for the team. Pisani spends his free time with his family; he has two children with his wife, Heidi.
13. Johan Franzen
Franzen is the type of hard-working player who gets rewarded in the playoffs for his bruising style. Spending his whole career with the perennially-contending Detroit Red Wings, the Swede had lots of opportunity for heroics. The three playoff years that truly stand out from the rest, cementing Franzen as a Red Wings hero, are the from 2008-2010, during which the Wings advanced to the Stanley Cup Final twice. The winger scored his first career hat trick in Game 2 of the second round against the Colorado Avalanche in 2008 and then followed that up with another hat trick in Game 4! In total, the man affectionately known as “The Mule” recorded 9 goals in the four-game series, setting a franchise record. In 51 playoff games from ‘08-’10, Franzen put up 59 points, showing that the regularly-depth forward was a hero come playoff time.
Unfortunately for the now-lacklustre Red Wings and for Franzen himself, concussion issues have plagued him recently. After playing only half the season in 2015 due to head trauma, the Swede attempted to make a return in 2016 but only lasted two games before the symptoms returned. The Mule is now on the team’s long-term IR and will likely stay there until his contract expires and he retires.
12. Ken Dryden
This Canadian-born NHL goalie has recently been named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in history. Dryden made his NHL debut in 1971, only playing six regular-season games and earning the #1 goalie spot entering the playoffs. From here, the Canadiens went on to win the Stanley Cup, and subsequently, Dryden played a crucial role in winning five more Stanley Cups over a six-year period. The moment this NHL star entered the league, he shone, and during the playoffs, he became a hero.
Since Dryden’s retirement, the NHL star has written books, and been involved in politics, but he has also stayed involved with hockey. From 1984-1986, Dryden served as Ontario’s first Youth Commissioner. He also worked as a TV hockey commentator at the Winter Olympics. The Hamilton, Ontario native became the president of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1997, but, in 2004 he resigned. After leaving sports, Dryden entered the world of politics, joining a Canadian political party and running for House of Commons. His political career was prevalent until 2011 when he lost his seat. Since 2012, Dryden has been a “Special Visitor” at McGill University, where he teaches a Canadian Studies course.
11. Lanny McDonald
McDonald may be remembered more by younger generations for his humongous moustache than his actual on-ice accomplishments, but he put up Hall-of-Fame-worthy numbers for 16 seasons! Though his regular season stats are great, Calgary Flames fans remember the team’s sole Stanley Cup from 1989 so fondly because of the heroics from McDonald and teammate Doug Gilmour. Although, at this point of his career, the Alberta native was not exactly at the peak of his game at the age of 36, his leadership was felt throughout the locker room. With his team up three games to two over the Montreal Canadiens in the ‘89 Final, McDonald scored the go-ahead goal in Game 6 and, for the first time in his career, hoisted the Cup over his head. He retired on top following the 1989 season.
McDonald has been publicly prominent for many years since his retirement. He fell into a managerial role with the Flames from his retirement until his resignation in 2003. The mustachioed hero has since written books and been active in charity work, supporting the Special Olympics and Alberta Children’s Hospital. The former right-winger has played in numerous alumni games in the past few years and was sadly snubbed for the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players list released this year.
10. Ruslan Fedotenko
Fedotenko is one of the best players to come out of former Soviet state Ukraine, but that’s not saying much. The former left winger was a middle-six player at best, often benefitting from playing with world-class centres during his career. However, his clutch abilities stood out from the rest once the playoffs came around. Fedotenko was an integral part in both of his teams’ Stanley Cup Championships, as he won one with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 and one with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. The Kiev native scored both goals in the 2-1 defeat of the Flames in Game 7 of the ‘04 Finals and recorded 14 points in 24 games during the Pens’ run to the ‘09 championship.
Fedotenko’s playoff success didn’t translate much into his later career, as he ended up in the KHL for a couple years before retiring in 2016. Since then, Fedotenko has remained quiet. Unlike most European players who go back home after their careers, he has remained stateside. He calls former stomping ground Tampa Bay home, where he lives with his American wife, Debbie, and three step-kids, Kyle, Derek and Larkin.
9. Chris Kontos
Kontos falls into the category of “surprise hero.” Though the left winger did post a respectable 123 points in 230 career regular-season games, he was never anything more than a bottom-six guy. That all changed in the 1989 playoffs, when Kontos was a member of the Los Angeles Kings. Though the team only made it to the second round, Kontos emerged as an out-of-nowhere goal scorer. He tallied 9 goals in just 11 games during those two series’, a feat that not even goal-scoring machine Alex Ovechkin can lay claim to.
The Toronto native’s scoring explosion proved to only be a two-time thing as the only other notable accomplishment in his career came when he scored four goals in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s inaugural game. After retiring in 1998, Kontos worked as a sports anchor in Barrie, Ontario for three years before starting his own CD/DVD replication business, which he now runs full-time.
8. Bobby Baun
Baun, usually referred to as “Bob” or “Boomer”, is a retired NHL defenceman who played in the league for 17 seasons, from 1956-73. When Baun was called up to the Toronto Maple Leafs after playing with their AHL affiliate, he remained with them for the next 11 seasons, winning four Stanley Cups. Baun is mostly remembered for his remarkable strength and heart in Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings. Baun had fractured his ankle early in the game but when his team went to overtime, he returned and scored the game-winning goal. The Leafs then went on to win the Stanley Cup in game seven. Baun is known as being a tough playoff hero, and one of the main reasons that the Leafs won their third consecutive Stanley Cup in 1964.
Once his career ended at the age of 36 due to injury, Baun ran a cattle farm, but three years later, he was hired to be the head coach of the Toronto Toros of the World Hockey Association. After posting the worst record in the league in the 1975-76 season, he was replaced as coach, and returned to farming and selling insurance. In 2007, Baun was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Law from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology for his work on and off the ice. In 2010, Baun was also inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. Baun currently resides in Oshawa, Ontario.
7. John Druce
Druce is your average, underdog right winger. His talents, however, shone during the 1989-90 season’s stressful playoffs. This Peterborough native played his junior years with the hometown Petes and was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the second round of the 1985 NHL draft. From here, he spent numerous seasons with the Capitals’ AHL team before breaking into the NHL as a fourth-liner. During the 1989-90 season his regular season statistics were quite unremarkable, but during the playoffs he had an astonishing 14 goals, leading the Capitals to the Conference Finals. The underdog came out of nowhere to be the hero, and his story is not only good today, but will be for years to come.
Since Druce’s playoff magic, he became a junior hockey analyst on Sportsnet. Druce also joined a cycling team to raise money for pediatric cancer research because his daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia. Also, in 2010, the Petes alum was made an honorary Constable of the Peterborough Lakefield Community Police Service, for his contributions to the Pedal For Hope in helping raise more than $1 million. Druce currently works for Freedom 55 Financial in Peterborough, Ontario.
6. Petr Klima
Klima is a former NHL player who played for five different teams during his career. A native of Chomutov, Czechoslovakia, the Detroit Red Wings were eager to bring the young star to the NHL. He was one of the Red Wings’ bigger stars in the late-1980s, but due to his own personal issues, he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers after playing four full seasons. In the 1989-90 season, Klima scored the winning goal in the third overtime of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. During this game, Klima had not played at all in the third period or in the first two overtime periods. When he was given the chance, he went on to score the game-winning goal, which he is most well known for.
Since his retirement from the NHL in 1999, he went to play in the Czech Leagues with HC Chemopetrol for two years before retiring hockey for good. In 2010, he became the owner, general manager, and head coach of six independent youth hockey teams around Detroit. Klima also has brought children from the Czech Republic at a young age of 13 to teach them the language, culture, and style of American hockey. He and his wife have acted as surrogate parents to these kids, feeding them, bringing them in as their own, and transporting them back and forth to the rink. Although Klima had run-ins with the law, and got into bad things, he is now becoming a mentor and role-model to the next generation of Czech players.
5. Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Giguere is the best playoff-performing goalie of the 2000s. After being traded by both the Hartford Whalers and Calgary Flames, “Giggy” ended up with the Anaheim Ducks. In only his second full NHL season, the Montreal native lead the seventh-seeded Ducks past Stanley Cup-favourite Detroit in the first round and carried that momentum all the way to the final, where the Cinderella team finally met their match, losing to the New Jersey Devils in Game 7. Thanks to his outstanding 1.62 GAA and .945 SP, Giguere became only the fifth player in NHL history to take home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP without winning the Cup. Then, in 2007, Giggy led the Ducks through the playoffs again, this time capturing hockey’s holy grail. He posted outstanding numbers in doing so: a 1.97 GAA and .922 SP.
The two-time cup champ and playoff hero never quite reached the same level of success again, though he did put together an impressive career. Since retiring in 2014, the now-39-year-old has stayed quiet and out of the public spotlight, spending time with his family at their home in Quebec. He is married to a lady named Kristen and has one son, Maxime Olivier.
4. Stephane Matteau
Matteau is an NHL retiree who is known for helping win the Stanley Cup in 1994 for the New York Rangers. In the 1987 NHL Entry Draft, Matteau was drafted 25th overall to the Calgary Flames. He played over 800 games in the NHL with six different teams. Matteau is most known for his contribution to the Rangers’ win over the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals by scoring two overtime goals, one of which ended the series and became an iconic goal in Rangers history. One of the announcers, Howie Rose, uttered the precursor to the now-iconic “Bonino, Bonino, Bonino”; Rose shouted “Matteau, Matteau, Matteau” when he scored the game winning goal in the second overtime of Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.
After Matteau’s retirement in 2003, he served as an assistant coach with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL for two seasons. He is now mainly a family man and spends his days supporting his son, Stefan, who is now a prospect for the Montreal Canadiens
3. Max Talbot
Talbot, like fellow list-member Fedotenko, was one of the depth players who strongly contributed to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup win in 2009. While the LeMoyne, Quebec native only had 13 points in 24 playoff games that year, two of his goals were hugely important to the club. In Game 7 of the Cup Finals against Detroit, Talbot put the team on his back, scoring both goals in the Pens’ 2-1 victory. Although he has not had the same success since his huge Game 7 performance, the hard-working centreman will always have a place in the hearts of Penguins fans for his heroics that night.
Talbot has become a bit of a journeyman since 2009, going on to play with the Philadelphia Flyers, Colorado Avalanche, and Boston Bruins. After having a terrible start to the season with only 7 points in 38 games with the Bruins in 2015, he was sent down to their AHL affiliate and was not offered another contract following the season. The Canadian is plying his trade this season with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL.
2. Bill Barilko
Barilko was an NHL hockey player who played his entire, short career for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the 1950-51 season, Barilko wore number 5, which is now retired by the Leafs. During the span of five seasons, the Leafs and Barilko were Stanley Cup champions four times, 1947-49, and again 1951. Barilko’s last goal that he ever scored was in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final, which won the Leafs the Stanley Cup. Although he passed away at the young age of 24, his death was said to haunt the Leafs for years.
After the 1951 season, Barilko boarded a floatplane that was headed to Seal River, Quebec for a weekend fishing trip. During their return flight, the plane disappeared and the passengers were eventually presumed dead. Eleven years later, a helicopter pilot discovered a wreckage of the plane. This is when they found the remains of Barilko and his fellow passenger. After an eleven-year Stanley Cup drought while Barilko’s body was missing, the Leafs won the Cup the year that it was finally found. If that’s not a remarkable story, I’m not sure what is.
1. Tim Thomas
Thomas and his career were equally strange, but the man’s Dominik Hasek-like style made him a playoff hero. Not even breaking into the league full-time until he was 32, the goaltender quickly took the NHL by storm. He led the Boston Bruins through the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Finals against the President Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks. The Bruins were strongly outplayed but Thomas set a new record by stopping 798 shots throughout the playoffs, 238 of them in the Finals. The Flint, Michigan native even shut-out the Canucks in Game 7 to clinch the Cup win, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy and becoming the oldest player in history to do so at the age of 37. Throughout the 2011 playoffs, Thomas has posted an ungodly .940 save percentage through 25 games.
The lefty goaltender never saw playoff success again in his career, though he did last another three years in the league, playing until the impressive age of 40. Thomas retired in 2014 after playing parts of seasons with the Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars. He also stirred up controversy with his decision to skip the traditional White House visit that accompanies a Stanley Cup win, saying he did not agree with the way the government was being run. Since the puck-stopper’s retirement, he has remained out of the public eye, living in the United States with wife Melissa and their three children, Kiley, Kelsey, and Keegan.
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