The biggest unsung hero for each NHL team still alive in the playoffs
There are four NHL teams remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and I’d love to see the person whose bracket is still perfectly intact after everything that’s transpired.
The Montreal Canadiens alone probably busted 90 percent of brackets, while the New York Islanders likely took care of the rest. It’s been an entertaining and surprising postseason thus far and one thing’s been made abundantly clear: You’re only as strong as your weakest link.
Superstar-filled teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins have been knocked out because their opponents had better depth. Sure, in the case of the Tampa Bay Lightning, being $18-million over the cap will buy you a little more talent than the rest, but nonetheless, role players on each of the remaining teams have stepped up and are integral reasons why their squad is still standing.
Here’s one player who deserves a little more credit for his team’s success.
Montreal Canadiens: D Ben Chiarot
The Canadiens, against all odds, have clawed their way into the final four. That's impressive for a team that was once trailing 3-1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1. Since then, the squad has rattled off seven straight victories and has shut down some of the North Division’s biggest stars. While you could argue that every member of this team is an unsung hero, Ben Chiarot, specifically, deserves a lot more credit.
In Game 3 of Round 1, Dominique Ducharme really started to line-match Shea Weber and Chiarot against Auston Matthews and the results were excellent. From Game 3 onwards, Chiarot was on the ice against Matthews on a minimum of 55.14 percent of his ice-time in each game. After recording a goal and two assists in the first two games of the series, the Maple Leafs star was held to just two assists the rest of the way.
In Round 2, Chiarot and Weber’s main assignment was handling whatever line Blake Wheeler was on, and similarly to Round 1, the two were wildly successful. The Winnipeg Jets captain was held to zero points during the quick four-game series.
What makes Chiarot’s success even more impressive is the punishment he has endured throughout the playoffs. His 75 combined hits taken and shots blocked are the third most of any player this postseason, according to Natural Stat Trick. Chiarot is undoubtedly doing whatever he can to help the Habs win.
New York Islanders: D Scott Mayfield
One of the more underrated blueliners in the game, Scott Mayfield proved his worth in Round 2 against the Boston Bruins. Once the series shifted to New York for Game 3, head coach Barry Trotz started strategically pinning Mayfield and his defensive partner Nick Leddy against Boston’s revamped second line of David Krejci, Taylor Hall and Craig Smith. While the Bruins’ top line commands a lot of the opposing team’s attention, all three members of the second offensive unit can wreak havoc on any given night. For the rest of the series, Mayfield made sure that didn’t happen.
From Game 3 onwards, Hall, Krejci and Smith combined for just four even-strength points as Mayfield saw the trio during more than 50 percent of his ice-time. Additionally, Mayfield blocked 18 shots during the series, the second most of any player during Round 2. The blocked shots are even more important on a Trotz-led team, as so much of the Isles’ defensive success comes from limiting opponents to the perimeter and getting in front of shots.
Mayfield doesn’t get a lot of league-wide praise, but he’s a player that plays his role and fits the coaching scheme near-perfectly.
Tampa Bay Lightning: F Ross Colton
The only forward on the Lightning this year who didn’t get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup last season, Ross Colton is proving to be an integral part of the team’s fourth line and someone who may just have a future as a member of the squad’s bottom-six.
Through 11 games, Colton has produced a respectable three goals and four points, but his underlying numbers state that there’s even more to like. His 18 scoring chances are seventh on the team, his 11 high-danger chances are tied for fifth and he’s been on the ice during six goals for, opposed to just one goal against, which gives him the team’s best goals-for percentage at 85.71-percent.
Since playing his first game with the Bolts on Feb. 24 and scoring in his debut, head coach Jon Cooper hasn’t had to take his name off the lineup card too often.
Vegas Golden Knights: F Alex Tuch
The Golden Knights offer a very balanced offensive attack that can excel in both the skill and physical components of the game. At the start of the postseason, Vegas missed Max Pacioretty for the first six games of its series against the Minnesota Wild. Finding an in-house replacement for a top goal scorer isn’t something that typically comes easily, but it did for Vegas.
During Pacioretty’s absence, Alex Tuch stepped up in a major way. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound skill player provided three goals - including a game-winner - and four points while filling in on the first line. His performance helped get the Golden Knights to a Game 7 in the series against the Minnesota Wild, allowing Pacioretty to return and help take this team to another level.
Overall, Tuch’s 3.73 individual expected goals this postseason are second on the squad, his 35 scoring chances are first and his 16 high-danger scoring chances are tied for first. Despite playing on the third line, this guy is one of the best offensive producers on his team and deserves to be recognized as such.
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