- Scott Burnside, NHL
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PITTSBURGH -- So, Max Talbot, the most famous fourth-line center in the NHL, came off the bench to tie Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals in the waning seconds of regulation. Then, Petr Sykora, a player who had gone drier than the Sahara Desert, scored the winner in triple overtime.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the beauty of the NHL playoffs.
So, with Game 6 set for tonight and a host of potential heroes waiting in the wings, here are our picks for players who could steal the limelight from the big guns.
Word has it that Cleary brought a host of friends, family and dignitaries into Detroit from his native Newfoundland for Game 5 on Monday night. That didn't quite work out as Talbot and Sykora soured the Stanley Cup celebration plans, but Cleary has the skills needed to put his hometown of Carbonear on the Stanley Cup map and set up a date for a summer visit with the big mug. True, he's scored only once in his past 14 playoff games, but that just suggests to us he's due.
OK, if you've flown in from Hollywood to write the script for the end of this series, can you think of anyone more perfect than the bent-nosed, Pittsburgh native to play the hero and send this series back to Detroit for a seventh game? After a slow start against Detroit, Malone has been much better in the last three games and has been part of a dynamic Penguins penalty-killing unit that has limited the Red Wings to just three goals on 27 chances. Malone returned to action in Game 5 after taking a Hal Gill shot to the face, and while he has just one assist in the finals, he has the potential to create some havoc in front of Detroit netminder Chris Osgood and make himself even more of a hometown hero.
The master crease crasher is playing with a tender hamstring and has just one goal in his last nine outings, but Holmstrom is one of the most dogged players in the National Hockey League. The Wings forward had a glorious chance to end Game 5 in overtime (who didn't for Detroit?) when he made a nifty spin-around backhand move, but was denied by Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. It figures to be an ugly goal that makes the difference in Game 6 and no one knows ugly goals better than Holmstrom.
The talented 19-year-old forward hasn't recorded a point in the series and is minus-4 through the first five games after a strong showing in the Eastern Conference finals. Yet, he had his best outing in Game 5 in Detroit with 34:04 in ice time. Another integral part of the Penguins' top-notch penalty-killing unit, Staal also has the talent to work the puck down low. Plus, when he's playing well, as he was in Detroit on Monday, he is difficult to knock off the puck. Staal is the kind of player who could come up huge in front of the hometown fans.
The talented native of Olomouc in the Czech Republic had a strong series against the Dallas Stars with four points in six games. He has one goal in the Stanley Cup finals, the winner in Game 4 in Pittsburgh, so he knows how to deliver. Hudler will also be seeking redemption in Game 6 after he took the high-sticking penalty on Rob Scuderi in the offensive zone that ultimately led to Sykora's power-play goal in the third overtime period Monday.
Speaking of redemption, the Penguins rookie was in the penalty box for a hooking call in the third period of Game 5 when Pavel Datsyuk tied the game at 2. The look of anguish on Kennedy's face when Datsyuk redirected a Henrik Zetterberg pass through Fleury's legs was heartbreaking. But the little dynamo turned in his best performance of the finals playing much of the evening with Evgeni Malkin. He is a dogged forechecker and has surprising puck-handling skills. True, he has yet to score in these playoffs and has just four points, but Kennedy has been around the action enough to suggest he could step forward and help send this series to a seventh game.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
With Game 6 set for tonight and a host of potential heroes waiting in the wings, here are our picks for players who could steal the limelight from the big guns.