Frantisek Kaberle's career has never been the same since the Carolina defenseman scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 7 of the 2006 Final -- and not in a good way.
After a season in which he had 6 goals and 44 points, plus 4 goals and 13 points in the playoffs, Kaberle injured his shoulder before the 2006-07 season started and was limited to 27 games. He played 80 games in 2007-08, but his offensive skills had diminished. He had no goals and 22 assists while playing in pain.
This season was even worse. He played only 30 games and spent a lot of nights watching games from the press box as a healthy scratch. That's where he was Wednesday night during the Hurricanes' 4-1 Game 1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.
"After the Stanley Cup, I had problems with my shoulder for a season and a half but now I'm healthy," Kaberle said.
Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice inserted Kaberle into the lineup for Game 2 because of his superior puck-moving skills, thinking that would help his team regain the speed that it didn't show in Game 1. Though Kaberle didn't have a point in the Hurricanes' 2-1 win, he got 14:52 of ice time and was on the ice during the final minute of regulation. He provided the puck-moving skills that Maurice was looking for.
"It was a pretty tough game for me. In the last couple of months, I've played only one game and it was kind of an easy game," Kaberle said. "I jumped into the playoffs today and had a tough time at first. But as the game got going, I was getting better."
Maurice said that the Hurricanes' earlier defensive weaknesses this season exposed Kaberle's weaknesses, size and strength.
"He needs short support around the ice, and then he can make that pass and handle that puck," Maurice explained. "But 3-on-2s or battles around the net isn't his strength."
Kaberle very much resembles an earlier Czech defenseman who had a solid NHL career -- Petr Svoboda, who spent several seasons with Montreal and also scored the goal that won the gold medal for the Czech Republic at the 1998 Winter Olympics.
"I didn't see him play much because he was playing in Canada when I was young," Kaberle said of Svoboda. "But I got to see him a lot when I was older. I like to play like him because he had the same size -- not a big guy."
Kaberle's brother, Tomas, is a star defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Their father, Frank Sr., was a star player years ago for the Czech National Team. The son is proud of his family's hockey legacy.
"My dad observed us but didn't coach us," Kaberle said. "When we were small, he was playing hockey. Later on, he didn't coach me but he always had good advice if I asked him."
Kaberle was happy to play well in an important playoff win, but his veteran experience showed when he was suggested that he must be very happy about the outcome.
"It's just the first step of a long way," Kaberle said. "It was a great win for us today."