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Silfverberg's emergence makes him Ducks' X-factor

by Curtis Zupke

ANAHEIM -- The regular season has not been kind to Jakob Silfverberg early in his NHL career.

In 2013-14, the forward's first season with the Anaheim Ducks, he played 52 games, sitting 30 because of injury or as a healthy scratch. He scored one goal in his first 27 games this season.

But the attributes that made Silfverberg the featured player the Ducks received in the July 2013 trade with the Ottawa Senators for forward Bobby Ryan have bloomed this spring.

Silfverberg's 11 points are third on the Ducks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and his eight assists were tied for second in the NHL through Monday. Almost as important to the Ducks as Silfverberg's offensive output has been his defensive play, which makes him an X-factor against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final.

"I try to play the same way I've been doing all year, but obviously I've been more successful in the playoffs and I feel like I play on another level," Silfverberg, 24, said. "I try not to change anything, but I feel like the outcome has become better for me. I don't know if it's just because of the playoffs."

The emphasis on defensive play and help from regular linemate Ryan Kesler probably have a lot to do with Silfverberg's emergence. Despite his slow start, he finished the regular season with NHL career highs of 13 goals, 26 assists and a plus-15 rating.

Silfverberg was third on the Ducks with 41 takeaways and led the League with nine shootout goals (in 13 attempts). The former is a page from Kesler's game, and it's easy to see why Silfverberg has shown some Selke Trophy qualities when he's played with the former winner.

"He's gotten better as the year went on," Kesler said. "Obviously he struggled to score early on, but he stuck with it.

"I've always thought he was a good player. I think he's defensively responsible and he has a great shot, great hockey sense. We've been feeding well off each other."

It took a while for Silfverberg to gain an identity with the Ducks when he arrived after the July 5, 2013, trade. There was initial confusion on how to pronounce his first name (it's "Jack-ub"), and his great start to the 2013-14 season was stunted by a broken hand that kept him out for nearly two months.

Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau scratched Silfverberg six times, including his first game back from winning a silver medal with Sweden at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"I got the injury kind of early and missed a lot of games," Silfverberg said. "[I] came back and never really played the same, I think. But this year I've been healthy and been playing a lot. It's been more fun."

Silfverberg's signature moment so far is his game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Western Conference First Round series against the Winnipeg Jets. He took the puck from Kesler on a cycle, turned and scored on his quick-release shot with 21 seconds left. It was a Ducks record for the latest go-ahead goal in a playoff game.

Silfverberg typically doesn't like to dissect his game too much because he's enjoying the ride, in a much more comfortable seat after a disjointed first season in Anaheim.

"I'm just kind of having a lot fun when I'm playing right now, and I get to play a lot, and the confidence is on top," Silfverberg said.

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