By Adam Brady
If there is any Duck who can relate to the intensity and physical demands of the postseason, it’s James Wisniewski.
The 31-year-old defenseman’s return to Anaheim at last month’s trade deadline was celebrated by Ducks fans not only for his booming slap shot but for a long-earned reputation for grit and tenacity.
That was never more on display than the last time Wisniewski went to battle for the Ducks in the playoffs, back in the spring of 2009. During Game 3 of a second-round series with bitter rival Detroit, Wisniewski took a Pavel Datsyuk slap shot square in the chest, ultimately collapsing to the ice. It was a scary momet as Wisniewski coughed up blood before being helped off the ice, getting rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a lung contusion.
Wisniewski was eventually released from the hospital sooner than expected, and after missing Game 4, he returned for the remainder of a tough series the Ducks ultimately dropped in seven games.
That would turn out to the be the last taste of the postseason in a Ducks uniform for "Wiz," who went on to make two more appearances with Montreal (2011) and Columbus (last season), bowing out in the first round both times.
|“Anytime you go to the playoffs, it’s fun. You’ve got an opportunity to achieve a lifetime goal and win the Stanley Cup. That’s what we all play the game for." |
Like the rest of his Ducks teammates, he’s itching to get back and looking forward to the opening series with Winnipeg. “We have somewhat all healthy bodies and guys are feeling good,” Wisniewski said following a spirited practice Tuesday afternoon. “We had some rest. I think the excitement now is there. Obviously with the lead we had for such a long period of time, now it’s like the real season begins. There is a lot of enthusiasm, and we’re ready to start here on Thursday.”
With the regular season having ended way back on Saturday in Phoenix, the wait for that Game 1 puck drop on Thursday might seem agonizing to fans, but Wisniewski said the players are taking the wait in stride.
“I’m sure everybody wants to get going, but at the same time, when it starts, it’s really starting,” Wisniewski said. “You’re playing pretty much every other day for, hopefully, two months. You just have to kind of stay focused and understand this gives us a little time to work on things, tighten up on things, little reminders on certain things. It lets guys heal their bodies for what we hope is a long playoff run.”
One of the reasons Wisniewski was acquired in a deal with Columbus just prior to the March 2 trade deadline was to help a struggling power play, something that hasn’t developed as expected yet. The Ducks enter the postseason ranked 28th in the league at a 15.75% success rate, a puzzling stat for a team that had the Western Conference’s best record at 51-24-7.
But Wisniewski sees signs of life. “I think the last game we could start to see a little bit of a difference,” he said of a 2-1 win in Phoenix in the regular season finale. “There were a lot of opportunities where we had some good chances. You get one nice tip that goes into the net instead of hitting the post or going just wide, it kind of sparks that we got this [feeling]. You get that bounce, and here we go.
“I feel in order to be successful in the playoffs, your special teams have to be exceptional. You either have to make them pay on the power play or if you do take penalties, they’re not getting a sniff.”
Like with most playoff series, Ducks-Jets promises to be physical, and Wisniewski – who has had issues with punishable retaliation in the past – says the key is to stay disciplined. “There are two big heavy teams, and there are going to be some collisions,” he says. “At the same time, the emotions have to be very controlled. You never know if that extra punch could cost you the series. You really have to bite the bullet and play between the whistles, protect our net and know it’s a long series.”
But as much as physicality and intensity rule the postseason, Wisniewski also knows it’s a fun time of year. He showed that this morning from this tweet he posted asking fans to post their best #PaintItOrange photos.
“Anytime you go to the playoffs, it’s fun,” Wisniewski says. “You’ve got an opportunity to achieve a lifetime goal and win the Stanley Cup. That’s what we all play the game for. And it’s always fun to reach out to the community and kind of hype things up here. I know the fans are excited and they’re proud of the work we’ve done this year. Hopefully we can keep it going.”