5 unheralded players who will impact the 2nd round
Memories are made in the playoffs.
While superstars often garner the hockey headlines, depth proves invaluable in the postseason, where players around the league have the opportunity to rewrite their story.
Here are five lesser-knowns who will play key roles in the second round of the playoffs:
The Anaheim Ducks defenseman is a dying breed - a blue-liner who plays a hard-nosed game and who isn't afraid to mix it up in defending his crease.
On a young and deep blue line that boasts the likes of Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler, and rising stars in Shea Theodore and Josh Manson, Bieksa's name is often shuffled to the back. But that's where he does his best work.
His game is simple: Bieksa helps keep pucks out of his own net, as his proficiency in the opposition's zone has waned in recent years - he finished with just 14 points in the regular season (To note, he tallied four points in the opening-round sweep of the Calgary Flames).
He certainly has the support of his coach. As Ducks bench boss Randy Carlyle told Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times on April 18, critics don't see the value Bieksa brings, noting, "We like Kevin Bieksa. I don't care what anybody else says about him, personally."
Bieksa's shutdown abilities were invaluable in Round 1, and the Ducks hope he can put together a similar performance in the second round against the Edmonton Oilers.
Bonino, Bonino, Bonino!
After eliminating the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1, Bonino will need to be up to the task in taking down the Presidents' Trophy winners. For a group that boasts the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and more, that's no easy task.
As for Bonino, the 29-year-old played a key role in last year's Stanley Cup win, putting up 18 points in 24 games. He had just one point in the opening round against the Blue Jackets, but where the Penguins truly need Bonino to contribute is in shutting down the opposition.
A strong two-way player, Bonino is regularly relied upon by Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, leading the team in important but less flashy categories, like defensive zone faceoff wins and short-handed time on ice.
It's a crowded blue line in the Music City, which leaves little spotlight for one of the Nashville Predators' most valuable defenders.
Behind the likes of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, and Ryan Ellis, Ekholm is the behind-the-scenes blue-liner that keeps the machine roaring in Nashville. While Josi led the group in ice time through its opening-round sweep over the Chicago Blackhawks, the quartet's numbers aren't all that different:
|Defenseman||Games||Points||Time on Ice|
Playing a simple and mistake-free game, Ekholm's value in the opening round came in shutting down the opposition's best, knocking out the highly-favored Blackhawks in a quick four-game sweep. Ekholm was a primary piece in stifling Chicago's scorers, as the Blackhawks exited the playoffs having tallied just three goals.
The next challenge: a repeat performance in the second round against the St. Louis Blues, where the rival music town has no shortage of offensive support of its own in the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and Alex Steen, among others.
The Ottawa Senators rely on scoring by committee to get ahead of the opposition, and there's no more underrated producer than Hoffman.
The 27-year-old made his full-time debut with the Senators three years ago, and in the ensuing campaigns has put together consecutive 20-goal seasons. In all, he's amassed 82 goals in 231 games. Not bad.
Hoffman was somewhat quiet in the club's opening-round series against the Boston Bruins, scoring twice in Game 3, but held off the scoresheet in four other contests. Going back to the team's scoring-by-committee approach, that left the likes of Bobby Ryan and Derick Brassard to carry the mail for the Senators.
But now it's Hoffman's turn. Finishing second to Kyle Turris in goals this season, and behind only star defenseman Erik Karlsson in points, the Senators will need Hoffman to be a key contributor in their second-round matchup against the New York Rangers.
Here's the good news: Hoffman has saved some of his best performances when going toe-to-toe against the Broadway Blueshirts, having scored seven points in 12 career games against the Rangers.
A healthy scratch to begin the postseason, Schmidt has made it a difficult decision for coach Barry Trotz to put him back on the sidelines.
But Schmidt has held his own since becoming a regular, averaging more than 18 minutes a night. He's also picked up two assists, pulling even in points from the back end with more offensive producers like John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov.
Where Schmidt lands once Alzner is set to the return to the lineup is unknown, but he's no doubt made his case to stick around.
After knocking off the Maple Leafs in Round 1, Schmidt's extended audition will carry through to the second round as the Capitals look to take down the rival Penguins.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)