May 21 — Panthers, Finns & Legends Made

Thursday’s Tap-in

SCARY MOMENT: Maple Leafs captain John Tavares was stretchered off the ice and taken to the hospital after a scary collision in the first period of Thursday’s Game 1 against Montreal. Tavares was reported to be conscious and communicating but was admitted to the hospital for further observations.

IMAGINE IIHF: Teams from all over the world dreaming of gold finally get their shot, as the 2021 IIHF Men’s World Championship kicks off today. The 2019 Finnish team is technically the reigning champ, as the tournament was cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic.

CARTER WORKED HARDER: Pittsburgh’s Jeff Carter scored two goals en route to a 5-4 Game 3 win over the Islanders on Thursday. Not to be outdone, Kris Letang notched three points with one goal and two assists, and New York’s Cal Clutterbuck got in on the fun with two goals of his own.

THAT’D BE GREAT: Panthers forward Ryan Lomberg scored the overtime winner in Florida’s wild 6-5 Game 3 win over Tampa on Thursday. As THW’s own Mark Scheig points out, Lomberg now has more playoff overtime winners than Steven Stamkos and Alexander Ovechkin combined.

NO FROWNS FOR MR. BROWN: Forward Patrick Brown (no, not our Patrick Brown!) scored one of five unanswered goals for the Golden Knights in their 5-2 Game 3 win over Minnesota. Game 4 is Saturday evening.

Why NHL Playoff Hockey’s the Best:

Anyone Can Be the Hero

Like any fan, we love watching the superstars play. Connor McDavid captured the imagination of the NHL this year with a 105-point shortened season, while Auston Matthews put the league on notice with an impressive 41 goals in 52 games. Since the playoffs started last weekend, its been Nathan MacKinnon that has taken charge, scoring a league-high five goals and seven points to lead the Avs out to a 2-0 series advantage over the St. Louis Blues.

As impressive as those achievements are, the thing that makes playoff hockey stand out from other sports is how often a role player seems to emerge in the biggest moment of a game or series. History may be written by the game’s best players, but just about every franchise boasts an iconic moment that was authored by an unheralded or unlikely hero.

The tradition of the unsung hero dates back at least as far as 1939, when an unassuming Boston Bruin became “Sudden Death” Mel Hill with three overtime goals in a single series. In the more than 80 years since, that torch has been passed to the likes of 1997 Stanley Cup clincher Darren McCarty, 2004 Cup Final Game 7 hero Ruslan Fedotenko, and 2010 playoff standout Dave Bolland — who followed a six-goal regular season performance with an eight-goal postseason explosion.

Rookie Joel Kiviranta scored a hat trick for the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the 2020 Western Conference Semifinals after being a last minute lineup addition (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This postseason has already held true to tradition in that regard. On a Washington Capitals team that features Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, it was fourth-liner and former seventh round pick Nic Dowd who closed out a dramatic Game 1 victory with an overtime winner.

Last night alone we saw goals from Scott Mayfield of the New York Islanders and Radko Gudas of the Florida Panthers — two rather anonymous stay-at-home defensemen who managed just two goals each all season. Then Ryan Lomberg — he of two career goals — delivered the overtime dagger to complete an incredible 6-5 Panthers’ comeback win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Much like our parity discussion from the other day, the emergence of an unlikely hero serves as another dose of unpredictability that the NHL playoffs often bring. In order to maintain fresh legs, teams must trust the entirety of their active roster by rolling all four lines, therefore offering more opportunities for depth players to step into bigger roles.

Welcome to playoff hockey in the NHL — where you never know when that critical, game-changing goal will come or who might be the hero to emerge.

Future Face of Finland

Anton Lundell is a 19-year-old Finnish center who is on his way to becoming a household name. Drafted 12th overall by the Florida Panthers in the 2020 NHL Draft, the 6-foot-1 forward has only been playing professional hockey since 2018 but has built up quite the resume in that small amount of time. 

Lundell’s professional career began in Finland with HIFK Helsinki. In his first season he played in 38 games, earned 19 points, and garnered more experience appearing in 12 postseason games. Lundell also has plenty of international experience on his resume — having won gold when he played with the Finland national under-18 team at the 2018 IIHF World U18 Championships. In seven games played during that tournament, he scored twice and added four assists for a total of six points. The next year he represented Finland at the 2019 World Junior Championships and once again skated off the ice with a gold medal. 

Playing in a league with former NHL players, including Jessi Puljujarvi and Aleski Saarela, has been key to the development of Lundell’s game this season. While the Florida Panthers have a good mix of young players and veterans on their roster, it will be only a matter of time until he dresses for his first NHL game in the Panthers red.  

Lundell will make his World Championship debut with Finland Saturday morning against the USA on the NHL Network.

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