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Wednesday, May 5, 2010
5 Things: Unsung men along blue line


Playoff teams need contributions from everyone, but not everyone's offerings receive the same attention, at least nationally. So, we bring you five defensemen whose performances in these playoffs deserve more attention. They're our unsung heroes, if you will:

1. Douglas Murray, San Jose Sharks: The 30-year-old Swede continues to fly under the radar on a national level, but he's the granite the Sharks' blue line is built on. He leads San Jose defensemen with 30 hits in the playoffs, and his hard-nosed style is especially noticeable. He doesn't give an inch and pulverizes any opposing forward who gets near him. Not bad for an eighth-round pick (No. 241) in the 1999 NHL draft.

2. Johnny Boychuk, Boston Bruins: The 26-year-old Edmonton native began the day ranked eighth among all NHL blueliners in playoff ice time at 26 minutes, 42 seconds per game. The names in front of him: Chris Pronger, Zdeno Chara, Sergei Gonchar, Drew Doughty, Dan Boyle, Duncan Keith and Nicklas Lidstrom. Nice company to keep, Mr. Boychuk. The rookie also has chipped in offensively with five points (two goals and three assists) in eight games. Who knew?

3. Josh Gorges, Montreal Canadiens: The 25-year-old has been clutch defensively in these playoffs, particularly during the first round, when he was instrumental in helping limit superstar winger Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. Gorges may not be well-known among fans outside Montreal, but he's a household name in the Caps' dressing room. The Pittsburgh Penguins have had trouble scoring during the past two games, and Gorges is again part of the reason. He's an underrated shutdown defenseman.

4. Brad Stuart, Detroit Red Wings: His team is on the brink of elimination, but this gritty veteran has had yet another monster postseason. The 30-year-old native of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, seems to sleepwalk through the regular season (he was minus-12 this season) before awakening in the spring. Stuart is second among all defensemen in the playoffs with 38 hits and has a plus-6 rating through 10 games, an absolute rock on the Wings' blue line. He's also been in the middle of nearly every scrum, punishing anyone who comes near goalie Jimmy Howard.

5. Brent Sopel, Chicago Blackhawks: Last season, Sopel didn't dress for a single playoff game. He was a spare part. Credit the 33-year-old veteran for working hard this season to get back in the good graces of Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. Sopel ranks third among all blueliners with 27 blocked shots in the playoffs, a key contributor to the team's penalty-killing units. His ice time has jumped from 14 minutes, 51 seconds per game in the regular season to 18:32 in the playoffs. Who saw that coming? So far, he's an unsung hero for the Hawks.