NHL's Unsung Heroes to Watch in 2nd Round

↵The second round of the playoffs begins Thursday as the Blackhawks visit Canucks in the first game of their Western Conference semifinal series. Over the next few days, you're going to hear a lot about the stars on these teams -- Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby foremost among them -- but in the NHL playoffs, it's often the lesser names that play pivotal, but unheralded, roles, in postseason successes.
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↵With that in mind, here are eight players to keep your eye on. They might not show up in the scoring line, but if you look a little deeper, they're the sort of players who post the great plus-minus numbers and rack up the ice time in shorthanded situations. ↵

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↵Detroit vs. Anaheim: When your lineup is as deep and talented as Detroit's, with more than a few veterans with multiple Stanley Cup rings, it can be hard to identify any unsung heroes. Still, with Anaheim relying very heavily on getting scoring from its top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, I'm putting my money on veteran grinder Kirk Maltby, who is sure to see plenty of time against that top line. ↵

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↵As for Anaheim, keeping Detroit off the power play is going to be key. Two years ago, Sami Pahlsson and Travis Moen combined with Rob Niedermayer to provide an effective shutdown line. But now Moen and Pahlsson are gone, so look to center Todd Marchant to be called on to get the extra work when Detroit gets the extra man. ↵

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↵Vancouver vs. Chicago: Whenever you hear about the Canucks, it's always about the Sedin twins, Roberto Luongo and Mats Sundin. Maybe you've even heard of Alex Burrows, Selke candidate Ryan Kesler or Kevin Bieksa. But the man who is going to have his hands full fighting off Chicago's potent attack is defenseman Willie Mitchell. ↵

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↵Meanwhile, there's a reason the Blackhawks gave up defenseman James Wisniewski at the trade deadline, and that reason is the aforemetioned Pahlsson, a player with few offensive talents, yet can still make his head coach smile while playing 20-plus minutes per night in the postseason. ↵

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↵Boston vs. Carolina: We didn't get to see a whole lot of Boston in the first round, owing to the fact that they rolled through Montreal like a freight train. Taking a look at their lineup, it's impossible to miss just how deep the Bruins really are, both up front and on the blue line. That's allowed coach Claude Julien to spread out the ice time and keep everyone fresh. Still, if there were one unsung player who could be snatched off the roster unnoticed, it would be veteran winger P.J. Axelsson. Look for him to get plenty of key minutes on Boston's penalty kill. ↵

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↵As for Carolina, a lot of folks pointed at the reacquisition of Erik Cole as one of the moves that helped spark the Hurricanes down the stretch, but it's been hard not to notice that it's been winger Chad LaRose who has been logging time with Ryan Whitney and Eric Staal on the team's top line. ↵

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↵Washington vs. Pittsburgh: While the rest of the world will be obsessed with Crosby, Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin, this series may very well be won deeper in the trenches. One of the areas where Washington had tons of trouble in the first round was in front of the net and along the boards, where it had difficulty grabbing real estate or winning battles for loose pucks. That's just the sort of game team captain Chris Clark is perfectly suited for, and with Donald Brashear sitting out a suspension and coach Bruce Boudreau reluctant to re-insert center Michael Nylander into the lineup, Clark will have plenty of opportunities to mix it up in high traffic against the Penguins. ↵

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↵As for Pittsburgh, it's easy to see how Washington had trouble handling players like Ryan Callahan and Brand Dubinsky, which tells me that winger Tyler Kennedy could very well be in for a big series. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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