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The most overworked hockey cliché in the playoffs has to be one that goes, "Your best players have to be your best players."

What nonsense.

And no, I'm not saying your best players, be they the Sedin brothers or whoever, can take the Stanley Cup final off and you will still cruise to victory. The stars do need to maintain a presence.

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But the difference-makers in the big games are the foot soldiers more often than not. If your team does not have a few hard-working grunts who can hack and slash their way to the front of the net and whack in the odd goal, you are not going to win too many championships.

The first thing teams in the NHL playoffs do is crank up their defensive game. And it's all aimed at the other team's stars. The big guns usually get shut down in the playoffs because they are the focus of the best pair of defencemen on the opposition and the best checking forwards. On every shift.

Good teams win by getting their second and third and sometimes fourth lines to pick up the scoring slack. Or a defenceman or two.

Yet there is still enormous energy spent in this Stanley Cup final fretting about the silence of the Sedins. Daniel and Henrik have a grand total of two points between them. Throw in Ryan Kesler and you can say the Vancouver Canucks trio has the grand total of one goal.

Someone threw the best players have to be your best players chestnut at Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien on Sunday and he wasn't having any.

"I'm just going to tell you that right now, teams that are having some success have had secondary contribution," he said. "[Chris]Kelly at the beginning of the playoffs was a big boost for us. [Michael]Ryder has scored some big goals, you saw [Daniel]Paille score some big goals for us. So you've got to understand in the playoffs the guys are being checked closely, the key guys. It's not always obvious. You need secondary scoring and every team needs that."

The Canucks have a 3-2 lead in the Cup final and can win it Monday night because of people like Max Lapierre, as detestable as he is. He took time out from the worst acting job in a hockey situation since Rob Lowe in Youngblood to score the winning goal in Game 5.

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A look at the game-winning goals in this series shows the value of having blue-collar workers who can score. Rich Peverley and Mark Recchi scored the winners for the Bruins, although both came in blowouts. Raffi Torres did it for the Canucks in the first game. Both Torres and Lapierre came through in 1-0 games.

Yes, that shows the goaltending by the Bruins' Tim Thomas is other-worldly but he is getting lots of help keeping the Sedins quiet. It takes a special effort for stars to be the best players in an intense series like this one.

Unlike the regular season, the Sedins never see the other team's fifth and sixth defenceman. When they're on the ice, so is Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara. The odd easy shift against the fourth line? Forget it. It's the designated checkers almost every time, at least it is on the road when the home team has the benefit of the last change.

The Edmonton Oilers did not win all those Cups in the 1980s simply because of Wayne Gretzky. They won because they also had Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson. In Edmonton, Anderson played a supporting role and was a 50-goal scorer, not to mention a phenomenal playoff performer.

When the playoffs come and everybody clamps down on defence, there aren't too many pretty plays that result in goals. Even though the NHL has done a good job taking the smother out of the game it still comes back in the playoffs. The teams who can swarm the front of the net and knock in the odd puck are still the ones who prosper most of the time. The stars know that.

"We're battling hard. They are a good team," Henrik Sedin said. "We know we aren't going to get the chances maybe we get usually. That's the way it is. We have to bear down and get chances and find a way to beat Tim Thomas."

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More


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