It's the best time of year!
Here are five players that unexpectedly broke out and took their game to the next level in these playoffs…
1. Brad Marchand
Boston’s little ball of hate, a rookie to boot, was an effective player all postseason long. Marchand especially ratcheted things up in the Cup final, where he scored five times against Vancouver. His effectiveness went beyond the goal-scoring, though. Marchand was constantly in the face of the Sedins, getting under their skin every change he got. While doing so, he displayed his skill set and was the Bruins’ best forward all series. He finished third on the Bruins in points with 19.
2. Sean Bergenheim
The Tampa Bay Lightning made a surprising run to the conference final, and it may not have been possible without Bergenheim, as the third-liner tallied nine goals in 16 games. From Game 5 of Round 1 through Game 1 of Round 3, when the Bolts won eight straight games, Bergenheim had seven goals. One was the series-winner against Pittsburgh in Game 7; others were big momentum goals, most notably against Washington. Bergenheim, a pending free agent this summer, put himself on the map this spring.
3. James van Riemsdyk
The second overall draft pick from 2007 hadn’t really lived up to expectations until this postseason rolled around. Though the Flyers were swept in the second round, van Riemsdyk really emerged as a dominant power forward. JVR scored seven goals in 11 games, looking like a player on another planet in the process; he also fired a whopping 70 shots on net. Last spring, Claude Giroux was Philly’s big breakout performer. JVR followed in those same footsteps here in 2011.
4. Kevin Bieksa
Believe it or not, there was actually some Conn Smythe consideration for Bieksa early on in the Cup final. That’s how good of a playoff run he had for the Canucks. In 25 games, the soon-to-be free agent recorded 10 points. None were bigger than the ones he picked up against San Jose, as he suddenly turned into a goal-scorer. Defensively, Bieksa had 88 hits in the playoffs and was a catalyst on the blue-line some nights.
5. Joel Ward
Ward, the third player on this list to be an upcoming free agent, was a big contributor in the Predators’ playoff run. More known for his defense, Ward racked up 13 points in two rounds, including great efforts against the Canucks. No one expected Ward to be such a standout offensive performer after a 29-point output during the season. He will reap the benefits on July 1st.
Photos credit: Getty Images
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