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Homer's psyched for second season

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Tomas Holmstrom is entering his 15th NHL postseason, having played in 175 Stanley Cup playoff games with the Red Wings. (Photo by Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Though his knees are a mess – and they’ve been so for years – Tomas Holmstrom’s favorite time of the year is now. Not because the long, grueling season is over and rest may actually do him some good.

No, Holmstrom prefers to psych out the pain of having two bad knees, and whatever else maybe ailing him at the time. It’s all a mental game, mind over matter, and one that the Red Wings’ veteran forward usually wins come playoff-time despite the physical abuse that he takes on the job.

“We’ve have guys in the league who haven’t played in the playoffs at all, throughout their career, and it’s sad,” said Holmstrom, who has played in 175 playoff games. Only teammate Nicklas Lidstrom and New Jersey goalie Martin Broduer have played in more among active players.

“It’s a long off-season for those guys too, because this is the best time of the year,” Holmstrom continued. “You work so hard through 82 games and now this is the fun part, the crowd is going nuts. It’s playoff hockey and everything is faster, harder, everything is on the line and it’s a fun time to play.”

Not since the 2003-04 season has Holmstrom played so sparingly for the Wings. This season was his lowest average ice-time per game, which is roughly four-minutes less than his average over the past six seasons.

Still, Holmstrom will likely play a crucial role in the Wings’ opening round playoff series against the Predators, which begins Wednesday night at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. Of his 11 goals, 10 came on the Wings’ power play this season.

“You just play the same way,” he said, “and hopefully, in the playoffs it seems like more pucks get to the net because now you’re playing with more desperation, so the style fits me pretty good.”

Holmstrom will be key on the power play where he usually sets-up shop in front of the crease and screens the goaltender. Unfortunately for the Wings, Predators goals Pekka Rinne is 6-foot-5 and five-inches taller than the Wings’ net-front disturber.

“Yeah, you have to look over your shoulder more to see where he is looking,” Holmstrom said, of Rinne. “But sooner or later he might go down in a butterfly and when he’s down there he really can’t see anything. But he’s a really good goalie and it will be a big test to get some screens on him.”

The Predators gave up just 40 power-play goals, compared to the 50 surrendered by Detroit, so getting opportunities, even with the man-advantage, could be a daunting task for the Wings’ specialty team.

Meanwhile, 25-year-old Patric Hornqvist is quickly gaining notoriety, especially back home in Sweden, as his popularity grows in his role as the next great NHL net-front presence. The 6-foot forward led the Predators with 27 goals this season, including eight on the power play.

“They’re really talking a lot about him as the new Holmstrom back in Sweden,” Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “I think he’s done a really good job in front of the net the last few years. He really knows how to score and he has a really good shot, too. He’s a dangerous player for sure around the net.”

Holmstrom even offered up his critique of the Predators’ forward Tuesday afternoon, saying, “He’s a strong skate and he sees the ice well with a good shot and he competes really hard around the net with some good hand-eye coordination. He’s a good player for them, he’s scored a lot of goals for them.”

One way to defend Hornqvist is to stop him from getting to the front of the net, thus giving Jimmy Howard a better chance at seeing shots from the point.

“It depends on where the puck is coming from in different situations,” Ericsson said. “But let’s say the puck is coming out of the corner and up to the defenseman and he’s one of the half wall guys and trying to come through you, try to box him out early. But you can’t hold him up too long otherwise you’re going to get an interference penalty. There’s always this fine line that you don’t know where it’s at, but you try to box people out as much as you can.”

A veteran of 26 playoff series victories, it wouldn’t be long before the curtain comes down on Holmstrom’s incredible career, one that saw him reach the 1,000 games played plateau earlier this year. But now, in the twilight of his career, he’s learned to appreciate the playoffs a lot more than he did as a younger player in the late 90s.

“You never know how long you’re going to play, maybe this is my last year, or maybe there’s one more, who knows,” he said. “But for sure, it’s an end of the road, but you have fun, suck it in and see what happens. … This is the best time of the year.”

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