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Eaves steps up his game in the playoffs

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Patrick Eaves checks Anaheim's Cam Fowler for one of his six hits that led the Red Wings in Saturday's Game 4 win at Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Dave Reginek)

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The recent addition of Todd Bertuzzi to the Red Wings’ fourth line seems to have energized Patrick Eaves in the playoffs.

“He’s got a lot of leadership (qualities), he’s been around a long time, played a lot of games at a high, high level,” said Eaves of his new linemate. “It’s always nice to have a special skill-set out there that not a lot of players in the whole league have. … He’s such a big man and once he gets hold of that puck he’s hard to knock off.”

It’s the smaller Eaves though who was the one raising all of the havoc in the last game of the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Anaheim Ducks. Eaves had a team-high six hits in Game 4, which the Red Wings won in overtime. The Red Wings have been the aggressors in this first-round matchup, out-hitting the Ducks in three of the four games, and a lot of the energy has come from Eaves as the bottom six forwards.

“Patty’s a good talent. He’s that kind of kid on the team that can play in any roles, play PK, 5-on-3, kill a 5-on-3, very versatile. He’s a good hockey player,” Bertuzzi said. “Obviously with the limited minutes he sometimes gets he’s over-shadowed. But he’s done a good job staying mentally into it all of the time, and he’s been a tremendous help for this team.”

Eaves wasn’t among the most physical Wings this season, compiling 40 hits in 34 games. But in this series, he has a club-high 11 hits in the first four games against the Ducks.

“I feel like I finish checks all of the time, so maybe the (scoring crew) saw them more last time and marked them down, I don’t know,” Eaves said. “I always try to get in the way of people up the ice so I don’t have to chase them the rest of the way.”

While his teammates aren’t surprised by the on-ice contributions made by Eaves this season, it’s interesting to note that it was only 16 months ago when the right wing nearly had his career cut short when he was struck in the head by a puck.

Last month, the Detroit chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association nominated Eaves as their candidate for this season’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication.

On Wednesday, following the Red Wings morning skate at Honda Center, coach Mike Babcock complimented Eaves’ work ethic, calling him the Wings’ most effective player in Game 4.

“I thought he skated the best he’s skated, period,” Babcock said. “I don't know if that was just because the D moved the puck better. (He) was important for us. He's always heavy on his stick and makes good decisions with the puck.”

Since 2003, when Eaves was Ottawa’s first-round draft pick, his hockey career as evolved from leading scorer at Boston College to 20-goal scorer with the Senators, and now is a tenacious fourth-line forechecker with the Red Wings.

“I’m just trying to contribute as much as I can. Cause turnovers in their own zone and make it hard on their D to get the puck up the ice. Just trying to take time in space away. If I have to skate faster to get there then that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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