Just four days shy of the two year anniversary of his last NHL goal – February 22, 2007 vs. Montreal – Preds forward Steve Sullivan netted a pair of goals at Detroit. Sullivan appeared to score his first goal back on January 13 at Toronto in his second game of the season when his shot eluded Vesa Toskala. But the puck had been deflected in front of the net by Radek Bonk giving Sullivan instead his first assist of his comeback.
Sullivan added four more assists over his next 14 games, including two helpers in the past four games. And his offensive performances had become more dangerous since the All-Star Break with several posts and near misses. His speed and play-making ability opened up several scoring opportunities for his linemates, Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont. And Sullivan converted the shootout winner in Nashville's February 12 comeback against the St. Louis Blues – a night in which he skated over 26 minutes of ice time.
Still, Sullivan had yet to net a goal during his comeback ... until the 19:53 mark of the first period tonight. It took him just 12:49 to record goal number two, a rebound off Dumont's shot to cap a pretty passing play by Sullivan-Arnott-Dumont through transition.
With seven points in 17 games, Sullivan is quickly emerging as the leading candidate for this year Masterton Trophy, awarded each year to “to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication.” The last six winners of the award have overcome serious injury, cancer, or lymphoma.
After missing 153 games from February 2007 until January 2009 due to back issues which required a pair of operations and many days of strenuous rehab. Many – perhaps most – people had written off Sullivan's chances of ever playing in the NHL again.
Perhaps the biggest sign of how far Sullivan has progressed comes from his teammates and coaches. No longer is Sullivan being considered a success just by stepping out on the ice. He's now expected to contribute each and every game, a role he's been settling into with increased ease. He has four points – and a shootout winning conversion – in the past five games, including a pair of games in which he skated over 20 minutes of ice time.