CALGARY - They're the little guys, the supporting characters, the guys who bleed and sweat and work with few headlines and fewer accolades.
They're like ditch diggers or bricklayers or bass players. They're hockey's version of football's offensive linemen or baseball's utility infielders. No credit, often overlooked, but critical to a team's success.
Dmitry Afanasenkov is like Tonto. Tim Taylor is like Robin. Andre Roy is like Dr. Watson.
On and on they climb over the boards: Ben Clymer, Chris Dingman, Martin Cibak.
While stars such as Martin St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Brad Richards get most of the goals and a lion's share of the attention, these sidekicks can be found digging in the corners, taking hits just to chip the puck ahead a few inches, killing time to allow the stars to catch their breath on the bench.
And few notice. Except Monday when this collection of second bananas rose to the forefront of the Lightning's gritty 1-0 victory in Game 4.
The Lightning is littering the highway to a Stanley Cup with key parts, who keep dropping off as the long road continues. Forward Ruslan Fedotenko missed Game 4. So did defenseman Pavel Kubina. Forwards Fredrik Modin and Cory Stillman don't look 100 percent. St. Louis is being smothered. Lecavalier was dinged in the third period.
"Obviously, part of the playoffs are guys getting hurt," Dingman said. "When that happens, other guys have to step up."
With the season on the line, the little guys stood up Tuesday.
"You get a couple of injuries and ... you suck it up and you bond a little bit," Lightning coach John Tortorella said.
With Kubina and Fedotenko out of the lineup, Clymer and Cibak went in. It was Cibak's third game of the postseason. It was Clymer's second.
"How huge were they?" defenseman Brad Lukowich said. "Think they were nervous?"
Actually, no. Clymer said he had a case of the jitters in the morning, but felt fine come game time. And just like the other role players - the Taylors and Andreychuks and Roys - Clymer and Cibak did all the little things.
"It's important. We have to make sure we do those little things that maybe go unnoticed by a lot of fans and certainly doesn't get any attention in the press," Clymer said. "We have to pull our weight, too."
That doesn't mean scoring goals or creating chances necessarily. It means finishing checks, chipping pucks out of the zone and, most important, not getting scored against. The best of the Lightning's little guys Monday might have been Afanasenkov, who was bumped from the third line to the top line with Lecavalier and St. Louis.
It is said in the playoffs that a team's best players have to be the best players. But that only works if the role players don't dip at all, and use the same effort of elbow grease game after game with no slide.
"I know Torts puts pressure on our best players to play better and expects them to be at their best every game," Taylor said. "But the role players have to be there. They have to be. And the majority of this game, the role players did a good job."
Good enough to help, maybe even lead, the Lightning to a series-tying victory.