This year's postseason has been nothing but a series of unexpected twists and turns. Montreal knocking out Washington and Pittsburgh, Boston blowing a 3-0 series lead, Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher backstopping the Flyers to the Conference Final, San Jose actually making a deep run ... and that's just been in the first two rounds. It's been absolute chaos right from the start. With that in mind, here are four players that have made an unexpected impact for their team in the playoffs.
1. Ville Leino: Big things were expected from Ville Leino in Detroit, especially when coach Mike Babcock raved about his potential after being forced to send him to Grand Rapids of the AHL in October, 2008: "This is the best player I've been involved in sending to the minors, I can tell you that. He's got a nose for the net, goes to the net, dominant on the cycle, makes great passes. He's a Red Wings type player. Leino, I think he's going to be a scoring machine."
When he eventually made his NHL debut last season and dangled his way through the Washington defense for his first goal, it was easy to think that the Red Wings had found yet another gem hidden across the pond. Unfortunately for Leino and the Wings, it never worked out for him in the Motor City, recording just 16 points in 55 games. Hardly a scoring machine. The experiment ended this February when the Wings had to open up a roster spot (and cap space) and sent him to the Flyers for a fifth-round draft pick and defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen. It was a deal that was greeted with a nothing more than a giant yawn at the time, but Leino has since found a spot in the postseason with the Flyers -- on a line with Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell -- and has managed to produce at a point-per-game pace, including a two-assist effort in their historic Game 7 win in Boston.
And speaking of Briere, one of Leino's linemates, we shouldn't overlook what he's done this postseason, either. Coming out of the lockout he was part of that high-flying, firewagon hockey Buffalo Sabres team that scored goals in bunches. He managed to turn his 95-point career year in 2006-07 into a gigantic eight-year, $52 million free agent deal with the Flyers before the 2007-08 season. For the most part, the deal has become an albatross for the Flyers as Briere has battled injuries and never really come close to matching the numbers he put in Buffalo. Until now, that is. In the absence of Jeff Carter -- and, at times, Simon Gagne -- Briere has been leading the Flyers with a team-high 17 points in 13 games, and is just two points away from matching his personal best in the playoffs. He's had some defensive lapses at times, sure, but the offense has been huge for Philadelphia.
2. Dominic Moore: It was a little surprising to see the Montreal Canadiens send a second-round pick to the Florida Panthers for Dominic Moore just before this year's trade deadline. And while that price may still be a little steep, Moore has certainly been a quality addition for the Habs. Always a tireless worker, strong defensive player and, as the cliche says, a great energy guy, Moore has chipped in three goals in the playoffs, including a pair of back-breakers in Montreal's first-and-second round wins over Washington and Pittsburgh. He scored the game-winner during the Canadiens' Game 7 win in Washington, and gave Montreal a 2-0 lead in its Game 7 blowout in Pittsburgh. Somewhat surprising statistic: Through their first 15 playoff games, Moore and Travis Moen are the only two forwards with a plus-rating for the Canadiens. I generally don't put much (or any) stock in plus/minus, but that seems rather stunning for a team that's in the conference finals.
4. Antti Niemi: We already pointed out this week how the current starting goaltenders for the final four teams have come from some unlikely places, and Antti Niemi is of course no different. Goalie was the biggest question mark for the Blackhawks all season, and they appear to have found their man with the 26-year-old, undrafted free agent. He's already recorded a pair of shutouts in the playoffs, and was sensational in Game 1 of the Western Conference final -- a 2-1 Blackhawks win -- with a 44-save effort in San Jose. And he's doing it for a fraction of the price of former starter Cristobal Huet.