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X-Factor: Samuelsson brings experience to table

by Alain Poupart

The Florida Panthers are back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in a dozen seasons in large part because of all the newcomers brought in this past summer.

But they also added some veterans after the start of the 2011-12 regular season, and a couple of those veterans could wind up playing key roles in the postseason.

One is them is center John Madden, a member of three Stanley Cup-winning teams (two in New Jersey and one in Chicago).

Signed on Jan. 4, the 38-year-old Madden got off to a slow start with the Panthers, battled a minor lower-body injury and became a healthy scratch on a few occasions. But he’s become a regular part of the lineup as the fourth-line center.

In addition to his experience, Madden is a quality faceoff man and also a solid penalty killer.

But the guy who stands out as the Panthers’ real X-Factor heading into the playoffs might just be Mikael Samuelsson.

The 35-year-old Swede was acquired from Vancouver in an October trade that sent wing David Booth to the Canucks.

Samuelsson didn’t get to make his Florida debut until December, though, as he rehabilitated a lower-body injury that had necessitated surgery and had flared up after his six games with Vancouver to start the season.

Once he got into the Florida lineup, Samuelsson began contributing.

He’s now playing the point -- alongside Brian Campbell -- on the first power-play unit. During 5-on-5 play, he skates on the second line with Marcel Goc and Sean Bergenheim.

“He’s very calm with the puck,” Campbell said. “Nothing really fazes him a whole lot. He’s a smart player. He knows where to be and where other guys should be, and he lets us know. He’s reliable. He plays a lot of point on the power play, so he’s a reliable defender as well when we need to defend on the power play when it gets thrown down the ice.”

Like Madden, Samuelsson has experienced the thrill of winning the Stanley Cup. He was a member of the 2008 champion Detroit Red Wings and also of the 2009 Detroit team which lost to Pittsburgh in the Final.

Samuelsson spent the past two seasons with Vancouver, but missed the final part of the Canucks’ run to the Stanley Cup Final after being injured in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against Nashville.

Samuelsson is back in Florida for a second stint. In his one previous season with the Panthers, in 2003-04, Samuelsson was limited to only 37 games because of jaw and hand injuries.

This second time around has been a lot more enjoyable.

“It’s been good,” Samuelsson said. “I’m spoiled to play with good teams. But definitely it’s different from last time I was here. I’m used to playing with good players. It’s just jump on the train here and keep doing that.”

Samuelsson never has been a big scorer, but he’s also shown the ability to get hot. He’s got 22 goals in 92 career Stanley Cup Playoff games, including seven goals in Vancouver’s six-game Western Conference Quarterfinal series victory against Los Angeles in 2010.

“I’ve played against him a lot playing Vancouver in the playoffs the last couple of years; Detroit, we played when he was there,” said Campbell, the former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman. “He’s in the right areas a lot of times. He’s difficult even when he’s playing defensively. He’s smart in how he attacks you. I’ve liked his game for a while.”

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