Post-season heroes come in all forms from the star player to the unknown fourth-liner. We all know the exploits of the great playoff performers. However, we hardly hear about the unlikely playoff heroes. These unlikely post-season stars can contribute in many ways. Contributions could be for an entire playoff run, a series, a game or even a goal. These unlikely heroes have made big plays that no one expects. This series looks at all of these unknown stars. These are the unlikely New Jersey Devils playoff heroes.
New Jersey Devils Playoff Heroes
Before the Moment
Jeff Friesen was drafted in the first round, 11th overall by the San Jose Sharks. He played nearly seven seasons with the Sharks. There he became the third all-time leading scorer in Sharks franchise history. However, his time with the Sharks had to come to an end as the team traded him to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim near the end of the 2000-01 season. Friesen’s stint in Anaheim only lasted a year before being traded to the New Jersey Devils at the start of the 2002-03 season. There Friesen found new life with the Devils helping them to finish 2nd in the Eastern Conference and a birth in the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That season the Devils and Ottawa Senators were fighting for first place in the Eastern Conference. Eventually, their paths were going to cross and it did in the Eastern Conference Final. The Devils surprisingly took a 3-1 lead over the Senators in the series, however, the Senators fought back to force a Game 7 in Ottawa. The two teams exchanged leads and the battle raged on. It appeared that Game 7 was destined for overtime. However, with just under three minutes left in the third period, Grant Marshall slipped the puck through the skates of defenceman Wade Redden right to Friesen who put the puck passed Patrik Lalime to give the Devils the lead. The Devils hung on to advance to the Stanley Cup Final thanks to Friesen’s game winning-goal. It was his third game-winning goal of the series.
From there Frisen helped the Devils capture their third Stanley Cup in franchise history. In Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against Anaheim, his former team, Friesen stepped up again scoring two more goals in Game 7. Unfortunately, that was the last big moment of Friesen’s career. Because of salary cap trouble, the Devils traded him to the Washington Capitals. Then Washington sent him to the Anaheim Ducks, where a groin injury sidelined him for the rest of his career. At the beginning of the 2006 season, Friesen signed with the Calgary Flames, but after a disappointing year, they did not bring him back. In 2008, he went to Sharks camp on a PTO but failed to make the team. He went over to Germany to play before calling it a career.
Before the Moment
Speaking of unlikely New Jersey Devils playoff heroes Mike Rupp definitely fits that category. Rupp was originally drafted in the first round, ninth overall by the New York Islanders in the 1998 NHL Draft. He remained unsigned while still playing in the Ontario Hockey League, Rupp opted to return to the NHL Draft. There he was selected 76th overall by the Devils in 2000. Rupp played his first professional season in 2000-01 with the Devils AHL affiliate at the time the Albany River Rats. He would stay in the minors until splitting time during the 2002-03 season. He made his debut with the Devils on January 13, 2003.
During the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Rupp only appeared in four playoffs games none bigger than Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final against Anaheim. Rupp entered the lineup due to an injury to Joe Nieuwendyk. Nieuwendyk suffered a hip injury injured that prevented him to play in Game 7. Rupp was inserted into the lineup and the rest they say is history. After a scoreless first period, Rupp got the Devils on the scoreboard 2:22 into the second period. There was still a lot of hockey left to be played. However, when Jeff Friesen iced the game with his two goals to give the Devils the victory, Rupp’s goal went down as the game-winning Stanley Cup-clinching goal. Rupp is the only player in Stanley Cup Playoff history to have his first playoff goal be the Stanley Cup-winning goal.
From there Rupp bounced around the leagues playing with then Phoenix Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, and Minnesota Wild. Rupp never found the same success he did in New Jersey. However, outside the Stanley Cup Winning goal, he is remembered for scoring two goals in the 2012 Winter Classic for the Rangers against the Philadelphia Flyers. He is now an analyst on NHL Network.
Before the Moment
The final unlikely playoff hero for the New Jersey Devils is Adam Henrique. Henrique was selected 82nd overall by the Devils in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Prior to coming to the Devils Henrique played for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. There he went on to win back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2009 and 2010. He made his debut with the Devils in April of 2011. The following season he got a full look with the team. He even made the NHL All-Star Game as part of the rookie showcase. However, did not go. Finished the season with 51 points (16 goals and 35 assists).
Henrique’s first big moment of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs came in Game 7 of round one. The Devils entered the playoffs as the sixth seed as they went up against the third-seeded Florida Panthers. The two teams exchanged goals and the game went to double overtime. There Henrique scored two goals, the second coming in double overtime to lift the Devils past the Panthers. In the Eastern Conference Final against the Rangers, Henrique shined again. This time in Game 6. After the Devils let a 2-0 lead slip away, Henrique scored his second game-winning overtime goal of the playoffs to lift the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final that year. He was the first rookie to score two series-clinching overtime goals in the same playoffs.
After those moments, things were tough for Henrique. Though he signed a new extension with the Devils, the point totals were not there. He scored a career-high 30 goals once before being traded to Anaheim. He remains there as part of the Ducks young core. The fans of New Jersey will never forget what he did in 2012.
Embed from Getty Images