Skip to Main Content

Red Wings' Brunner not bothered by playoff pressure

by Corey Masisak

DETROIT -- In recent seasons, the Detroit Red Wings dressing room was populated heavily by veterans, Stanley Cup winners with a businesslike mentality.

Not to say there weren't unique characters or personalities, but it certainly wouldn't have been considered one of the League's most colorful.

This has been a different kind of season in Detroit in many respects. There was a youth movement unlike anything seen for this franchise in some time. A half-dozen of the 23 skaters who have dressed for a game in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs had no prior postseason experience at this level. Two others are in their second postseason.

There is a different vibe in the Red Wings dressing room. To be certain, veteran leaders Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Daniel Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi have made sure the central principles of the Red Wings' machine remains, but the kids definitely have added a splash of color.

No one personifies this more than Damien Brunner.

"I really don't think he has a clue what's going on," Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard said. "I don't think he understands the realm of things, of what could possibly happen here as the playoffs unfold. He's in a good mood every single day."

Though some rookies tense up at this time of year from the pressure and gravity of the moment, Brunner seems to embrace it. He constantly is laughing and joking with teammates while he removes his gear, or when answering questions from the throng of media members stationed around his stall.

Zetterberg said, "He's just a happy guy." Maybe more importantly, Brunner is embracing the postseason spotlight on the ice as well.

The Red Wings lead the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Semifinals 2-1 after surprising back-to-back victories, with Game 4 set for Thursday at Joe Louis Arena (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS2). Each team boasts superstar talent, but the big guns pretty much have cancelled each other out to this point.

Detroit is winning this series with its all-rookie third line and in net. Howard has outplayed his counterpart, Chicago's Corey Crawford, through three games.

That may be surprising to some, but the work of Brunner, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson -- three of those eight "kids" who have stepped in for the Red Wings -- probably is more unexpected. The Blackhawks possess the deepest roster in the Western Conference, and their ability to get offense from anywhere to supplement their world-class players is a big reason they ripped through a shortened season en route to the Presidents' Trophy.

In this postseason, the Red Wings' depth has stepped to the fore. After assisting on Nyquist's highlight-reel goal Monday, Brunner has four goals and eight points in 10 games. He is tied with Franzen for the team lead in goals, and tied for second in points with Pavel Datsyuk.

Brunner scored a key goal in the Game 2 victory when he deflected a point shot in front of Crawford. He scored one of Detroit's three overtime goals in a first-round upset of the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks (Nyquist had one too).

When Detroit coach Mike Babcock has been asked (on several occasions) about Brunner in this postseason, there is a common refrain at the start of every response.

"He scores," Babcock said. "He wants the puck and he scores. Anybody who wants the puck and has the speed he has is going to be valuable. He started the year in the top six and now is on the third line, and that's probably a better fit for him."

Brunner was an unknown quantity at the start of the season. He signed with the Red Wings in the summer as a 26-year-old free agent with 272 career games in the top league in his native Switzerland. He led that league with 60 points last season, then added 57 points in 33 games this season for Swiss club Zug during the lockout, finishing third in the scoring race despite missing a third of the season to join the Red Wings.

Scoring in the NHL came pretty easy to Brunner as well at first. After a four-point game in late February against the Vancouver Canucks, he had 10 goals and 16 points in his first 19 NHL games.

He went more than a month before his next goal, though, and had two in his final 25 games. Brunner has settled in next to Andersson and across from Nyquist, and is the highest-scoring player in this postseason who doesn't see top-six minutes.

"It's a new experience, also the travel, going back and forth and playing every other day," Brunner said of the playoffs. "We got used to that already during the season, so that helped a little bit. But it's fun. It's intense and all the fans are into it, so it's a lot of fun out there."

Brunner turned 27 in March, so he's not as young as the other "kids" in the Detroit dressing room. He does still have much to learn about playing in the NHL, and finding consistency will be a goal for the 2013-14 season.

For now, he is enjoying himself and helping the Red Wings prove they are becoming a dangerous and deep opponent for the Blackhawks, one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

"He comes to the rink with a smile on his face, and when he's out there he's doing the right things," Howard said. "He's going to the net. When you're out there and competing like he's competing, pucks go in for you."

Babcock said, "He's going to get better because he's going to get bigger and stronger and he's going to understand the League more. He's better defensively already. We think he's going to be a good player."

View More