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Healthy Jovanovski difference-maker for Coyotes

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- There is a common phrase that Ed Jovanovski's teammates use to describe him that made the veteran blueliner such a key addition to the Phoenix Coyotes lineup in the last week of the regular season.

The phrase: "We're glad he's on our side."

That's because the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Jovanovski is just flat out no fun to play against. He hits hard, isn't afraid to mix it up along the boards, and trying to get position against him in front of the Phoenix net is just downright no fun at all.

After missing 20 games from mid-February through all of March with facial fractures in his orbital bone, Jovanovski played the last three games of the regular season and is now ready to help the Coyotes take on the Detroit Red Wings in a Western Conference quarterfinal series that starts on Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena.

"He's such an emotionally intense guy," said Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. "He makes other people uncomfortable. When he gets grumpy, other people are uncomfortable. He's a guy that I've gotten to play against before and I'm sure glad he's on my side now. He's a competitor and I look forward to him having a phenomenal playoffs."

Likewise, fellow defenseman Keith Yandle is just as happy to get "Jovo" back into the lineup in time to face the Red Wings. Yandle's 11 goals and 59 points gave him a breakout year from the offensive end, but that doesn't mean he can't appreciate what a gritty defenseman like Jovanovski does for a team.

"To get Jovo back is huge," Yandle said. "He's big. He's mean. He's fast. He's offensive. He's the whole package -- and we're happy to have him on our team, because nobody would want to play against him."

Jovanovski plans on keeping it that way, too, despite a long recovery from his latest injury. In his 15th NHL season, Jovanovski basically has one speed when he's on the ice: full go. Some might say his sole mission is to "seek and destroy" opponents carrying the puck, but he'd beg to differ.

"You're not looking to run someone through the boards," he said after Wednesday's morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. "But you're also looking to finish your checks and separate a player from the puck. I think we're a team that gets in hard on the forecheck and we can be a very (frustrating) team to play against when we're on that game."

The Red Wings know that all too well. It took Detroit seven games before ousting the Coyotes from the first round of the playoffs last season and the teams engaged in close games all four times they met this season. The Red Wings match their puck-possession skills against the hard-checking, physical play of the Coyotes -- and Jovanovski is usually in the middle of the action.

"Nothing's going to change for us as far as coming in and playing physical," he said. "Detroit's more than capable of matching it, if they want to play that way, but they're a puck possession team that wants the puck. We've got to find ways to have the puck and play bump and grind."

That won't be an issue for Jovanovski, who dished out 87 hits despite playing in just 50 games -- not to mention blocking 91 shots in those games.

"He's a huge part of our team," Coyotes forward Lee Stempniak said. "This is when he's at his best -- the tight games and the playoffs. He makes whoever he's playing against fight for every inch of ice, and that's what the playoffs are all about, contesting everything. Everything is hard-fought and we're glad he's on our side."

Jovanovski, meanwhile, is just glad to be back on the ice for the most enjoyable time of the season.

"This is what we all play for, and as a veteran player that's all you can ask for is that opportunity to play in the postseason," he said. "We've got a good team here and we could make some noise."
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