5 most surprising performances of the playoffs so far
Anyone can be a hero come playoff time.
Every year superstars deliver in the postseason to cement their status as clutch performers, while fourth-line grinders and backup goalies alike emerge from obscurity and make an impact when it matters most. And although the 2020 playoffs have been much different than year's past, unsung heroes are as relevant as ever.
With that in mind, here are some of the most surprising playoff performances thus far.
Joel Kiviranta, Stars
Raise your hand if you had heard of Kiviranta before he single-handedly punched Dallas' ticket to the Western Conference Final on Friday. Don't feel bad if he was off your radar, as it's hard to keep tabs on a 24-year-old with only 11 games of NHL experience before he produced the performance of a lifetime.
Kiviranta recorded a hat trick versus the Avalanche in Game 7, with his third tally coming in overtime. He became the first rookie in NHL history to bag three goals in a Game 7, and Kiviranta was the first player to do notch a hatty in a winner-take-all game since Wayne Gretzky in 1992-93. Not bad for a player logging his third career playoff game.
Perhaps most impressively, Kiviranta accomplished his feat in just under 15 minutes of ice time, with all his goals coming at even strength. Talk about making the most out of an opportunity.
Thatcher Demko, Canucks
The Canucks were shut out three times in seven games while consistently being outplayed and outshot, but they were able to take the top-seeded Golden Knights to a Game 7 thanks to Demko's surprise breakout.
Vancouver's backup was thrust into action to start Game 5 after an injury to Jacob Markstrom, and he was nearly invincible for three contests. Demko earned two wins with his club trailing 3-1 in the series, which included making a whopping 48 saves during a Game 6 shutout.
His play in Game 7 alone was nearly enough to carry his team to the Western Conference Final, as Vegas scored a single goal - on the power play late in the third period - on 34 shots.
Mark Stone's message to Demko in the handshake line says it all:
Dominik Kubalik, Blackhawks
Kubalik set the tone in one of the biggest upsets of the playoffs with a breakout showing in Game 1 of the qualifying round versus the Edmonton Oilers. The Blackhawks' rookie sniper exploded for two goals and three assists in only 13 minutes, making his presence known in front of a national audience during his first postseason appearance.
Kubalik's production isn't a surprise, as he's a Calder Trophy finalist and 30-goal scorer. But bursting onto the playoff scene with five points against the heavily favored Oilers certainly wasn't anticipated.
Joonas Korpisalo, Blue Jackets
After Korpisalo posted a .956 save percentage versus the Toronto Maple Leafs in the qualifiers, his success carrying over into the first round wasn't shocking. Still, an 85-save effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 is one of the most jaw-dropping performances in NHL history.
The Blue Jackets' puck-stopper set an NHL saves record during the five-overtime marathon, turning aside a remarkable 7.03 expected goals from Tampa Bay in all situations, according to Natural Stat Trick.
It ended in a loss, but the Herculean night from Korpisalo was the most impressive outing of the postseason to date, and easily the signature game of his career. It'll forever be difficult to fathom a goalie making 85 saves in a single contest, and Korpisalo's record could be untouchable for a long time.
Denis Gurianov, Stars
The Stars appear to have a knack for finding depth players who can step up in key moments.
Gurianov was the hero with a chance to eliminate the Calgary Flames in Game 6 of the first round, registering four goals and one assist in 13:27 of ice time. He did enjoy a 20-goal regular season in 2019-20, but for him to break out on a Dallas roster full of elite offensive talents was stunning, especially after the 23-year-old had only posted four multi-point NHL games previously.