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Stealing the Spotlight
Yi-Wyn Yen
May 01, 2006
Overlooked by the opposition, lesser-known players are once again proving to be surprise weapons in the postseason
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May 01, 2006

Stealing The Spotlight

Overlooked by the opposition, lesser-known players are once again proving to be surprise weapons in the postseason

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DETROIT RED WINGS forward Kirk Maltby's primary responsibility is to wear down the opposing team. "I know I'm not looked upon to score on a nightly basis," says Maltby, a fourth-liner who typically plays alongside Dan Cleary and Johan Franzen. "We keep it pretty simple." But after a regular season in which the 6-foot, 197-pound Maltby scored just five goals, his lowest total in seven seasons, and had just six assists, he quickly emerged as an unlikely playoff scoring star--potting both the game-tying and game-winning goals against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1. The 12-year veteran knocked in a goal with his stick shaft late in the third period and scored when his shot was deflected off Oilers center Rem Murray and between the pads of goalie Dwayne Roloson in the second overtime. "In the playoffs teams get focused on matchups," says Detroit left wing Brendan Shanahan. "We have meetings talking about their best players, and they have meetings focusing on ours. Guys like [Henrik] Zetterberg and [Pavel] Datsyuk, they're never [in a situation] in which the other team doesn't know where they are at every moment. It gives an opportunity for other players to fly under the radar."

The little-known hero has become a playoff staple over the years, and on Sunday the Oilers evened the series with just such a weapon. Coach Craig MacTavish, wanting to take advantage of rookie Brad Winchester's anonymity, put him on the top line, alongside left wing Ryan Smyth and center Shawn Horcoff. Winchester, who had one assist in 19 regular-season games, converted a cross-ice pass to score the winning goal in the second period.

Meanwhile, in Dallas, the Colorado Avalanche were discovering a go-to guy in rookie Wojtek Wolski. Called up from the Ontario Hockey League three days before the playoffs, the 20-year-old had a goal and two assists in Colorado's 5-2 upset of the Stars last Saturday. "When the playoffs are over, you're going to find [that] the teams that went to the Stanley Cup finals had scoring at key times from all four lines," says Detroit G.M. Ken Holland. "You can't go and play for two months and win with [the top] six guys scoring over and over."