|Kronwall is making up for the playoff time he missed last spring by delivering thunderous hits like this one on Colorado's TJ Hensick in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. |
-- When Game 1 of the Western Conference finals gets underway Thursday, Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall
will try to make his physical presence known, and perhaps be looking for a little revenge.
Last season, Kronwall missed the entire postseason with a broken sacrum, suffered during a game against Dallas on March 30. The culprit? Stars center Joel Lundqvist hit Kronwall behind the Detroit goal 24-seconds into the first period, knocking Kronwall out for the last four regular-season games the entire playoff run.
This year, however, Kronwall has played in all 10 postseason games, and he’s been leaving his mark on both the opposition and the score sheet. He currently leads the Wings’ defense in scoring with eight points, and unofficially leads the team in game-changing hits.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said that Kronwall brings a lot to the table when the Wings hit the ice.
“There's a number of facets,” Babcock said Wednesday afternoon. “Number one, he's a character, character guy and he's an elite hockey player with or without the puck. He gets the puck. He's leading, him and (Dallas’ Stephane) Robidas are leading the league from the back end in scoring with eight points a piece.
“But the dimension that makes him different than Raffi (Brian Rafalski) and Nick (Lidstrom) is he's out there hunting you down. He's looking for you. He's going to get somebody in this series, I guarantee it.”
Kronwall has been ‘getting somebody’ all postseason, starting in Game 1 against Nashville when he ran over Jordin Tootoo. Kronwall’s best of the postseason, however, may have been his hit
on Radek Bonk in Game 3, when he caught him looking back at a pass near the Nashville blue line.
Kronwall said expects the hits to continue into the conference finals.
“I think it’s going to be very physical out there, and I think that’s the way it should be this time of year,” Kronwall said. “I like that game style, it’s part of the game. You hit, you get hit, and I think it raises the pace of the game as well. Hopefully I can take advantage of that.”
Though he seems to have a nose for the big hit, Kronwall said he doesn’t go out looking for them, and rather lets the opportunity present itself.
“I just try to at least let the hit come to you, kind of,” Kronwall said. “When the time is there, you need to have good timing and step up, when the timing is not there, you can’t step up or otherwise you have an odd-man rush against you. That’s something I still need to learn even more, pick my spots a little better. When you pick your spots, you just try to make a good hit.”
Red Wings’ captain Nicklas Lidstrom
, who is one point behind Kronwall with seven, was full of compliments for the fellow Swede after Wednesday’s practice.
“He's helped us tremendously,” Lidstrom said. “He's a top four defenseman. He plays all situations whether power play or penalty killing. And he brings that physical aspect to our team that I think we need.
“Always, especially in the playoffs, you want to have physical defensemen that are tough to play against. You've got to keep your head up out there, and he's shown that in this year's playoffs that he can make that big open-ice hit and step out at the right time. That really helps our defense when you have a player of that caliber that can still log a lot of ice time. He can bring the puck up the ice, but can he play hard defensively and physically, too.”
Babcock said that Kronwall will keep the Stars on their toes.
But the dimension that makes him different than Raffi (Brian Rafalski) and Nick (Lidstrom) is he's out there hunting you down. He's looking for you. He's going to get somebody in this series, I guarantee it. - Red Wings coach Mike Babcock
“You know, they're going to be trying to get him, but he just makes you nervous,” Babcock said. “You've got to know where he is, and he gets to play against good players. They have good players, and he'll be physical. I guarantee you he remembers when he was put in one of the playoffs last year. The players have good memories.”
Kronwall will feed on the physical energy of the game when the series opens at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday, saying that big hits gets his blood flowing. But it doesn’t have to be him doing the hitting.
Kronwall said he likes to see any of the big hitters, like defensive partner Brad Stuart
, Chris Chelios or Dallas Drake, step up and knock somebody down.
“Absolutely, its something that makes me feel good,” Kronwall said. “But to be honest with you, it doesn’t matter if its me or Stuey crunch somebody, or if Cheli steps up, or if Dollie hits somebody, that fires me up.” Kronwall's hit on Colorado's Jones