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 Washington Capitals playoff heroes.
Washington Capitals Playoff Heroes
Before the Moment
Drafted by the Washington Capitals 40th overall in 1985, John Druce made his NHL debut in 1988. After playing three seasons in the AHL, he made the roster as a fourth-line defensive specialist. Druce spent half of the 1989-90 season in the AHL playing with the Baltimore Skipjacks. He put up 11 points during his time in the NHL and 31 back in the AHL. During the 1989-90 season, Druce tallied just eight goals and three assists. The 1990 Stanley Cup Playoffs is when Druce made his unlikely playoff run.
There was absolutely no warning when Druce popped off in the playoffs. A fourth-liner, who had scored just 11 points in the regular season was not expected to make much of an impact in a Stanley Cup run. Instead, he created a record that wouldn’t be broken until Alex Ovechkin did in 2018. Posting 14 points in only 15 games, Druce was the MVP of the Washington Capitals’ 1990 playoff run.
Facing the New Jersey Devils in the first round, Druce scored three goals in the six-game series, including two game-winners. Washington won the series and went on to face the New York Rangers in the Patrick Division finals. His offensive production increased exponentially. In Game 2, Druce scored a hat trick. He would tally only one other hat trick in his 11 year NHL career. Game 3 saw Druce post another four points, two goals, and two assists. He produced some much-needed offensive as top scorer Dino Ciccarelli was out with an injury.
Another two goals in Game 4 gave the Capitals a 3-1 series lead. In overtime of Game 5, Druce deflected a shot over Rangers netminder John Vanbiesbrouck to win the series and take the Capitals to the Prince of Wales Conference Finals. The Capitals would go on to lose to the Boston Bruins in 4 games, but Druce’s story would go down in NHL history.
“John Druce was not on the top of my list–anybody’s list–to come through the way he did,” said Washington general manager David Poile following Game 5 against the Rangers. “He came out of nowhere to be the hero.”
Druce was unable to recapture his playoff magic. Inconsistent over much of the rest of his career, he went on to play for the Winnipeg Jets, Los Angeles Kings, and the Philadelphia Flyers. He would make it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1997 with the Flyers but came just shy of raising the cup. The Detroit Red Wings bested them in four games. Druce played 531 games in the NHL.
Before the Moment
A first-round pick by the Washington Capitals, Andre Burakovsky was an impressive prospect. Tallying 87 points with the Erie Otters of the OHL during the 2013-14 season the Capitals saw potential. Unfortunately, Burakovsky would go on to have a streaky and inconsistent tenure with the organization. Though he continuously showed flashes of brilliance, he could never quite reach a 20-goal or 40-point season and has trended down in point totals since his second season in the NHL. Burakovsky’s unlikely playoff contribution came in the form of two goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the Capital’s 2018 Stanley Cup run.
Spending almost half of the 2018 Stanley Cups on injured reserve, Burakovsky went pointless upon returning to the team. That is, until Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Lightning. Washington started the series off strong by winning the first two games. Despite falling to the Lightning the next three games, they knew what they had to do in Game 7. More specifically, Burakovsky knew what he had to do.
Scoring two goals in Game 7, Burakovsky secured the Capitals’ Stanley Cup Final berth. Unexpected and unlikely, Burakovsky found his game at just the right time. His impact continued in the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, where he tallied four assists. The unpredictability of his play looked as though it had come to an end and he celebrated his Cup win riotously.
Burakosvky played the 2018-19 season with Washington, posting 12 goals and 13 assists for a 25-point season. Despite his 2018 Stanley Cup performance, Burakovsky had not improved upon the patchiness of his game. The Capitals traded him in the offseason to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for a couple of draft picks. The Avalanche took a chance on the winger, and as of the 2020 season, it looks as though it’s panned out. Posting the highest goal (20) and assist (25) totals of his career, Burakosvky is slated to start training camp on the first line. While he was a little bit of a disappointment for the Capitals, it looks as if he has found his groove in Colorado.
Before the Moment
Devante Smith-Pelly was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round, 42nd overall. He made his NHL debut with the Ducks in 2011. Traveling the league, Smith-Pelly played with the Ducks, the Montreal Canadiens, and the New Jersey Devils before he landed with the Washington Capitals. He was placed on waivers by the Devils in order to buy out the remainder of his contract. In 2017, the Capitals signed him to a one-year, two-way contract. Scoring only seven goals in 75 regular-season games, Smith-Pelly’s unlikely playoff run was unexpected, to say the least.
Playing in all 24 of the Washington Capitals playoff games in 2018, Smith-Pelly played a considerable part in the organization raising its first Stanley Cup. He ended up tying his regular-season goal total in those 24 games. Scoring three goals in the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, Smith Pelly had a significant impact on the 5 game series win.
He scored his final goal in the Game 5 Stanley Cup win. By far the most important, the goal tied the Golden Knights at three apiece. A diving goal at a frantic Marc-Andre Fluery set the stage for Brett Connolly to score the game-winner. Smith-Pelly’s playoff run was unlikely but came at just the right time. His efforts helped secure the Washington Capitals’ first Stanley Cup in its 44-year franchise history.