DETROIT – Sitting in the stands watching as his teammates were eliminated from the playoffs last spring is making this month’s Eastern Conference first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning much more enjoyable for Jonathan Ericsson.
The Red Wings’ 6-foot-4 defenseman missed the final 14 games of the regular season and the entire playoff round against Boston after he required surgery to stabilize a fractured finger and repair a partially torn tendon.
“All last year was frustrating,” Ericsson said. “It was injuries after injuries and kind of fluke injuries too. It was frustrating for sure and sitting in the stands watching last year’s playoffs was tough. You want to be out there and contribute, especially against a big team like Boston, we needed all the big guys we could.”
Until last spring, the only Stanley Cup playoff s game Ericsson missed was Game 5 of the 2009 Western Conference finals. Following morning skate that day he was diagnosed with having acute appendicitis and needed surgery. Then a rookie, Ericsson returned to the lineup three days later and played in Game 1 against Pittsburgh.
“I just felt bad before the morning skate and felt worse after the skate,” he said. “I knew something was wrong so we went to the hospital right away. Had surgery right before the game and I came down to the game, in or around the first period, watched the game in the locker room, and then my wife drove me home.
“It was a crazy day and not the kind of day you want in the playoffs, but the doctors had me back and running for the next game.”
Now, for the first time in his six NHL seasons with the Red Wings, health isn’t an issue for Ericsson. The veteran blue liner is one of five Wings, and the only defenseman, who’ve played in every regular-season and playoff game this season.
The Wings have definitely needed his stability on the blue line. Along with his partner Niklas Kronwall, the tandem has been a steady defensive force against the Lightning, providing a solid perimeter for rookie goalie Petr Mrazek, who is playing in his first NHL postseason series.
Getting up for big games has never been a problem for the man teammates call Big E. The Wings can only benefit from more big performances out of him. So far, his physicality has helped make it difficult for Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and others to obtain a free pass to the front of the net.
“In the bigger games he usually is better,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Intensity sometimes in the regular season isn’t his calling card, so when he’s dialed in he’s a good player. He’s a big man, he’s hard to get to the net on, he can make a first pass and he’s a real good skater. So it gives you a player to support Kronwall and they seem to be better together than apart so he’s an important guy for us.”
Ericsson is averaging three hits per game in the series, which is more than double from his regular-season totals. But this time of year, especially for a guy who missed the 2014 postseason, the intensity is ramped to a much higher level.
“I think when it comes to the playoffs you see more hits overall for players and more physicality,” Ericsson said. “Everyone knows what’s at skate and you don’t want any games or any shifts where you’re not battling your ass off out there. It’s the time of the year when every gets up another level and it’s tough to do for 82 straight games.”
GAME 5 TIME: Saturday’s Game 5 at Amalie Arena in Tampa will not officially be released until later today. However, Wings general manager Ken Holland indicated this morning that they’re down to two possible start times – 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. EDT.
If there is a Game 6 in the Chicago-Nashville series then the Wings and Lightning will face-off at 6 p.m. If the Blackhawks finish off the Predators in their best-of-seven series tonight, Saturday’s game in Tampa will start at 3 p.m.
GAGARIN CUP: Ericsson’s older brother Jimmie had a pretty good experience playing for the first time in the Kontinental Hockey League.
This week, the 35-year-old forward helped SKA St. Petersburg capture the Gagarin Cup in the Russian league’s playoffs. Ericsson even opened the scoring in the Cup-clinching game on Sunday.
It’s the third consecutive league championship for the older Ericsson. He captained Skellefteå to Swedish Elite League championships in 2013 and ’14.
“He’s been winning a lot lately,” Jonathan said. “It’s been really good for him and I’m really happy for him. I don’t know what he’s going to do next year, but I’m assuming he has plenty to choose from.”
Jimmie Ericsson will play for Sweden in next month’s World Championships in the Czech Republic. It will be the fifth straight time that he will represent his country in the annual two-week tournament.
Right Wing - DET
Goals: 0 | Assists: 1 | Pts: 1
Shots: 6 | +/-: -1
Hard to imagine that Gustav Nyquist
has been around long enough to be playing in his fourth postseason with the Red Wings. But he is.
In 26 career postseason games, Nyquist has produced two goals and six points. He has one point in this series, an assist on Tomas Tatar’s first ever playoff goal in Game 2.
Unfortunately, space is harder to come by in the playoffs, even for offensive-minded players like Nyquist, who finished second on the team with 27 goals during the regular season.
“There’s not a lot of chances out there for anybody,” Nyquist said. “Obviously it would be nice to score one, so hopefully I can do that tonight.”
The last time Nyquist scored a playoff goal was 2013, in a 3-1 win over Chicago in Game 3 of the conference semifinals.
Three and four years ago, Nyquist was a role player on the third line with guys like Joakim Andersson and Damien Brunner. Now he’s on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.
It’s a big difference, but Nyquist feels more comfortable in his fourth playoff year.
“You know what to expect more, you know it’s going to be tight out there and you’ve been in that position before and I think that’s what’s valuable for a young guy,” he said. “You know for every game that goes on here you get more comfortable. So hopefully I can use that to my advantage.”