The playoffs is the time of the year when people start to wonder whether another John Druce will emerge from the shadows to become the talk of the hockey world.
Druce wasn't exactly as household name in NHL circles back in the early 1990s when he played for the Washington Capitals. He was a fourth-line fixture known more for his guts than glory. He was a part time winger with back to back 8 goal campaigns to begin a NHL career that appeared to be going nowhere fast.
But when sharp shooter Dino Ciccarelli became sidelined with a bad knee in the 1990 playoffs, Druce found himself on the Capitals' top line with Dale Hunter and Geoff Courtnall. The line clicked instantly and played like they had been playing together for years.
Druce stunned the hockey world when he netted 14 playoff goals in 15 games as the Capitals advanced to the conference finals. Druce became the unsung hero of the '91 postseason. 8 of those goals came on the power play, and another shorthanded. 4 of his goals were game winners.
"Everything just took off. I kept on going to the net and it seemed that everything I touched around the net was going in the net," Druce said. "It was almost surreal. The whole time I was doing it, I didn't get too excited and I did not get too low. I was in a zone and even away from the rink, I felt I was in a zone."
Druce wasn't the first unlikely playoff hero, nor will he be the last. Ed Sandford, Chris Kontos and Darryl Sutter had playoff seasons never to forget. More recently Tomas Holmstrom, Dave Lowry and Fernando Pisani raised their games higher than anyone thought possible. In most cases, however, the success proves to be the players' 15 minutes of fame.
The fantastic playoff performance earned Druce a regular spot in the Caps lineup for the next couple of seasons. In 1990-91 he played in all 80 games and scored 22 goals and 36 assists for 58 points. Though those numbers were respectable, his playoff performance set unrealistic expectations amongst fans and media, and maybe even the Caps themselves. That disappointment continued when Druce put up just a single goal and an assist in 11 post season games in the spring of 1991.
After one more season in Washington, Druce began bouncing around the league, joining the Winnipeg Jets, Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers with no hint of success. He finished his career in the minor leagues and then spent two seasons playing in Germany.