Tuesday, June 01, 2004


Unexpected Playoff Heroes

Martin Gelinas has become a folk hero of sorts in Calgary with his penchant for scoring key game-winning goals. While the general focus of the media and the fans is on the coaches and star players, it�s often the unexpected production of a scrappy role player that truly captures the spirit of the playoffs: Rising to new levels, giving blood, sweat, and tears for a chance at Lord Stanley�s Mug.

Weird things can happen within a 20-ish game sample size, including some godly production from unlikely sources. It�s the timing which is key, as a hot streak during the middle of the regular season means very little compared to a hot streak in the playoffs.

Now while Gelinas has been a nice source of offense for the Flames during these playoffs, his 14 points in 23 games is not outworldly production, nor is it too far off of his career norms or production from this past season (35 points in 76 regular season games).

Here�s a look at some truly outlier playoff performances from the not-too-distant past:

Dave Lowry, Florida (1996)

During the �Year of the Rat�, the Panthers received quite a few heroic performances (Vanbiesbrouck, Jovanovski, etc), but none as dramatic and unexpected as that of current Calgary Flame Dave Lowry�s.

After a late season trade for Ray Sheppard, coach Doug MacLean put the grinder Lowry up on the 2nd line LW with Sheppard and center Stu Barnes. Instead of a skilled, speedy guy like Dvorak or Straka, Lowry was to do the dirty work for the line and play a defensive role.
After only 10 goals and 24 points in 63 games that season, Lowry entered a whole new zone during the playoffs are scored 10 goals and 7 assists in 22 games to lead the Panthers in playoff scoring. His key overtime goal against the Flyers in the 2nd round helped propel the Panthers into a 3rd round matchup with the Penguins, and into history.

The next season, Lowry returned to earth with 29 points in 77 games, but the magic won�t be forgotten in South Florida.

Alyn McCauley, Toronto (2002)

Alyn could turn into more than a grinder/tweener type than the others on this list, but he hasn�t quite established himself as a great offensive force as of yet. He�s on this list for the circumstances surrounding his career in T.O.

Alyn was a 3rd year player having problems fully establishing himself in the NHL due to injuries and inconsistent play. He wasn�t quite good enough for an offensive role, and wasn�t generally considered for a top defensive role, either. Alyn was basically stuck playing garbage minutes and some penalty killing time wherever Quinn could fit him in

After the regular season, his first full season, Alyn finished with 16 points in 82 games, and didn�t look much like a top talent in the making.

Then, out of nowhere, Alyn was the arguably the Leafs� best position player on the Leafs as they made a fantastic run that just fell short of the Cup Finals. McCauley �broke out� with 15 points in 20 games, and Leafs fans expected McCauley had turned into their next Mats Sundin.

That wasn�t to be, however, as McCauley just 15 points in 64 games the next season, and 25 points in 80 games the following season. McCauley couldn�t duplicate his playoff performance, perplexing Leafs� fans as to what alien possessed Alyn�s body during that playoff run.

Only after his trade to the Sharks did McCauley start to produce some decent offense (47 points in 82 games this season).

John Druce, Washington (1990)

Out of all of the crazy playoff performances of all time, John Druce�s is perhaps the most well-known to NHL fans in general.

After 15 points in 48 games during the 1989/90 season, his second in the NHL, Druce, a former 2nd round pick, was just barely starting to cement a regular role in the Caps lineup. With scoring stars and regulars such as Ciccarelli, Courtnall, Pivonka, Ridley, and Hunter in Washington, there wasn�t a lot of room for a player such as Druce to play.

Entering the playoffs, Druce was put onto a checking line of sorts with Dale Hunter, and proceeded to explode with 14 goals and 3 assists in 15 games, after scoring just 8 times in the regular season.

The Caps couldn�t get past the semi-finals, but Druce had already made a name for himself with his playoff scoring binge, and like McCauley, it was hoped that Druce had �broken out�.

The next season (90-91), Druce did produce a pretty good 58 points in 80 regular season games, but bombed in the playoffs with just 2 points in 11 games.

His career was never the same after 1991, and he soon found himself struggling as a 3rd liner as his production continually dropped. Druce eventually went to play in Germany in 1998, and now works with Sportsnet as a colour analyst on Junior hockey broadcasts.

Chris Kontos, LA Kings (1989)

A first round pick of the NY Rangers in 1982, Kontos had a very hard time grabbing a NHL job. Kontos had just 83 games in parts of 4 NHL seasons before his playoff binge in 1989. He even had a stint over in Finland, as he just couldn�t crack the NHL on a regular basis.

1989 was a special year for the LA Kings, as it marked Wayne Gretzky�s first year with the club after 'The Trade'. Kontos was hardly part of the spotlight, as he played in just 7 regular season games for the Kings.

Ironically, the Kings first round match-up was against Gretzky�s former club, the Edmonton Oilers. Despite the presence of Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, and Bernie Nicholls, the Kings were clear underdogs going into the series.

While Gretzky piled up his usual point totals in the Kings short playoff round (22 in 11 games), it was Chris Kontos who was making a name for himself as a playoff hero as he was the recipient of many of the Wayner�s great plays. With his 9 goals in 11 games, Kontos was instrumental in the Kings� upset of the dynasty-era Oilers, and stole some of Gretzky�s spotlight.

Despite his strong playoff showing, Kontos couldn�t crack the Kings roster the next year, and he spent most of the next 2 seasons racking up points in the AHL and IHL.

In 1992, the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning provided Kontos with the great opportunity he needed to get a regular NHL job. Kontos did just that, teaming up with ex-Canuck Brian Bradley, and producing 51 points in 66 games.

Sadly for Kontos, that would be the end of his NHL career. In 1993, Kontos went to play full-time with Canada�s National Team, and he spent the rest of his career in various European and minor leagues.

As I was a big Panthers fan back in the Year of the Rat I will always remember Lowry�s exploits the most in playoff hero lore. It didn�t matter that Lowry�s career was quite anonymous after that, for I will always remember Lowry for his heroics in that magical season.

For one short time period, Lowry, like Kontos, Druce, and McCauley, was a star in the NHL. These kind of performances don�t come very often, which makes them that much more special.

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