Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher is well aware that having a healthy Simon Gagne in the lineup will only help bolster an already formidable offensive attack.
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it could even multiply by two.
That's one reason why general manager Steve Yzerman traded for the veteran left wing in the offseason, dealing defenseman Matt Walker and a 2011 fourth-round draft pick for Gagne's services.
Gagne played a key role last season in helping lead the Philadelphia Flyers to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 12 seasons -- producing 9 goals, including 2 game-winners, and 12 points in 19 contests.
"He's certainly going to be an important guy for us," Boucher told NHL.com. "I know he's a big money player in the playoffs. He's our X factor heading into the playoffs and, no matter who we play, his experience will certainly be a big help.
"He's been to the World Championships, the Olympics and, just last year, he scored a number of important goals for his team to help them to the Stanley Cup Final."
In fact, Gagne returned from an 18-game absence from injury and scored the game-clinching goal in a 4-3 overtime victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 30. He recently saw a six-game scoring streak come to an end. In that streak he had 4 goals, 10 points and a plus-6 rating.
To those fans in Philadelphia, watching Gagne rebound from injury to play a significant role in the outcome of a big game is nothing new. Gagne had right-foot surgery last April 23, before returning to the lineup in the playoffs and scoring 7 goals in his first eight games back.
Since returning from his neck injury with the Lightning, Gagne has connected for 16 goals and 22 assists in 55 games.
"You can't look at his numbers at the start of the year," Boucher said. "He played injured because he didn't want to be out to start the season. He got injured in training camp. Over the last two years, he was basically known to be injured a lot, so he didn't want that to happen again and was hiding a neck injury that was really giving him major problems. He wasn't himself and everybody was wondering what was happening."
Gagne, 31, opened the season with no points and a minus-8 rating in six games.
"When he returned from the injury, he was a different player," Boucher said.
"It took a little bit of time for me to get going once I returned from my injury," said Gagne, who scored only 4 goals in his first 21 games upon being reinserted back into the lineup. "I have to make sure I finish strong in the playoffs now."
Gagne is finding some good chemistry with center Steven Stamkos
these days. That has enabled captain Vincent Lecavalier
to once again join forces with old buddy, Martin St. Louis
, along with Nate Thompson
"(Stamkos) isn't even near his prime yet and he'll only get better with time," Gagne said. "He's going to get stronger and it'll be fun to watch him for a long time."
So far, breaking up St. Louis and Stamkos has worked wonders for Boucher.
"It makes it tough for the opponent to match because you can't just concern yourself with St. Louis-Stamkos all the time," he said. "Now, you have to match St. Louis and Lecavalier on one line and Stamkos and Gagne on the other. It gives us more depth for the playoffs.
"Not to mention we are getting healthier at the right time."
Gagne is looking forward to all the excitement that comes with the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- this will mark his third straight postseason appearance and eighth overall.
"Once we're in the playoffs, we have a chance to win like everyone else and that's all we want," Gagne said. "I like what the team is doing." Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer