|Gustav Nyquist will make his playoff debut when he plays in Friday's Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinal at Nashville. (Photo by Getty Images) |
– It’s not the way he wanted to get into his first Stanley Cup playoff game, but nonetheless, Gustav Nyquist
will be ready once the puck drops on Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinal series Friday night at Bridgestone Arena.
“Looking back, I didn’t even think I’d get a chance to play in the playoffs when the season started,” said Nyquist, who began the year in Grand Rapids. “But you know, it’s very exciting and if it happens, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Nyquist, the 22-year-old rookie forward, will be inserted into the Red Wings’ lineup after center Darren Helm
suffered a season-ending laceration to his right forearm in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Predators in Game 1.
At Thursday’s practice, Nyquist skated on the third forward line alongside center Justin Abdelkader
and forward Danny Cleary
Helm, who was cut by an errand skate blade, was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he underwent surgery to repair severed tendons late Wednesday night.
His absence leaves a big hole for the Wings to fill, particularly on the penalty kill where he causes so much commotion for the opposition that it makes replacing him a challenge. However, Nyquist, who was named to the AHL’s all-rookie team last week, has been equally impressive every time he was recalled by the Wings to fill in – mainly for injured players – this season.
But while coach Mike Babcock announced his decision to put the Swedish rookie in for Game 2, he stressed that Nyquist’s role isn’t to mimic Helm.
“It's like all important players you miss you don't fill their role, you get someone else to do what they do,” Babcock said. “We'd like our bottom six to play more so ideally the game will be that way tomorrow that we can do that.”
Babcock was clearly heartbroken for Helm’s bad luck. He returned to the lineup Wednesday for the first time since missing 10 games with a sprained left knee suffered last month.
“It's tough. We talked about him on the positive side yesterday and then we lost him last night,” Babcock said. “Tough for the kid, he's a great kid, he plays hard, he's an important part of our team.
“You move on and get ready for another game. We have to win a game here, that's what our focus has to be. I feel bad for Helmer. He's a big part of our club. We're very thankful there was no nerve damage and so I think that's the most important thing, he's going to get well and have a summer to train and get back at it in the fall.”
A fourth-round draft pick in 2008, and a two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist at the University of Maine, Helm left college after three years to sign with the Wings’ organization 13 months ago.
He drew great reviews from Babcock for his efforts in training camp, and especially for his three-point outing in final exhibition game against Pittsburgh.
“We’ve always done the same thing and sent those kids to the minors and let them play a little bit, and see what we’ve got here. We’ll see how the year starts,” Babcock said on Oct. 2. “I mean, it’s an exhibition game. Let’s not kid ourselves. And I’m not trying to take anything away from the kid. He was outstanding and he’s been great all camp.”
While there are three games left to the AHL schedule, Nyquist leads the Griffins in scoring with 22 goals and 36 assists in 56 games as a first-year pro player. He also has a goal and six assists in 18 games with the Wings.
He played in Helm’s absence at the end of the regular-season, collecting a goal and three assists in the final 10 games.
“He’s ready to play in this league, he shows that every time he comes in and plays,” center Henrik Zetterberg
said. “He makes good decisions, skates well and is dangerous when he gets the opportunity, so it’s going to be fun to see him play playoff hockey.”
But Nyquist knows that the intensity of the playoffs will be different than anything he’s already experienced in his young NHL life.
“It’s a tight game. That’s what you see,” he said. “I don’t think we gave up a lot of chances for them. They did a pretty good job of keeping us out of the middle. That’s what we have to work on tomorrow. That’s playoff hockey. It’s pretty tight, not a lot of chances. If you get them, you have to score.”Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose