It's Hank's time to shine
Zetterberg is among the NHL's best active playoff performers
“This is why you want to play. You want to have a chance to win the Cup,” said Zetterberg, who led the Red Wings with 69-points this season. “Playoffs are everything. It's fun. That's when you want to play. It's easier to get fired up and get going in games because if you're not good the season is over and you want to keep playing for the next couple of months.”
Zetterberg has been an incredible playoff performer over the last eight seasons, leading the Wings in playoff scoring in 2008 and again in ’09. But last spring he missed the opening round series against Phoenix when he suffered a strained knee late in the season at Carolina.
Upon his return, however, Zetterberg picked up at his usual hot playoff pace, netting more than a point per game in the seven-game series against San Jose.
This season Zetterberg stayed relatively healthy and appeared in all 82 games, which was the first time in his career that he played in every regular-season contest. But as the cliché says, “Stanley Cups aren’t won in the regular-season,” and Zetterberg is quite aware of its meaning as the Wings head into their opening playoff series against the Predators, which begins Wednesday in Nashville.
“The regular-season is the regular-season, it's important to play well there too, but if you have a bad regular-season and you're good in the playoffs the people only remember the playoffs,” he said. “It doesn't matter if you have a great regular-season and go out in the first round of the playoffs than it's a bad year.”
Zetterberg was recognized as the league’s playoff MVP when he skated off with the Conn Smythe Trophy for his performance in 2008. But over time, Zetterberg has been the Wings’ go-to guy, netting almost a point in each of his 104 career playoff games.
“He's a key player for us and has the ability to raise his game to a whole new level in the playoffs like good players do,” defenseman Brad Stuart said. “Everybody has to do it. Superstars have the ability to put it in another gear. That’s what he does.”
Zetterberg is among the top five active players in playoff goals (49), points (99), plus/minus (+41), even-strength goals (29) and shots (397). With his next point, Zetterberg will become the sixth player in franchise history to reach 100 playoff points, joining Steve Yzerman (185), Nicklas Lidstrom (183), Sergei Fedorov (163), Gordie Howe (158) and Alex Delvecchio (104).
It’s definitely Zetterberg’s time of year, and his teammates expect that he’ll live up to his past playoff standards.
“He seems to be doing that every year. He’s such a great competitor,” forward Johan Franzen said. “He’s always winning the battles, coming out with the puck and doing all the small things right. He doesn’t spend a lot of time in the defensive end because he’s so strong winning the puck in the corners and coming out with it. He finds another step in the playoffs.
“I think he's been waiting for the playoffs to start for a while, he likes that. He has the puck all the time, it's hard for (opponents) to score. He's really good defensively, too. He always come out and gets the puck and hangs onto it. If you have the puck you're not going to get scored on.”
Playing on Zetterberg’s line has been a remarkable experience for Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler. Both forwards enjoyed career years, posting personal bests for goals scored with 23 and 25, respectively.
Now the pair will get to see how the Swedish superstar gets charged up for the playoffs.
“He's a gamer. MVP four years ago, he's just amazing the way he can prepare himself for the best part of the year,” Hudler said. “Everybody knows we need him. … He's been always great in playoffs. Can't wait to play with him and we're ready.”
While some of his teammates are anxious to see Zetterberg turn up the heat in the playoffs, Niklas Kronwall believes his fellow Swede is already in playoff mode.
“I think he’s been gearing up for the last few weeks,” Kronwall said, “especially with all of the injuries, he’s really been carrying this team. Him, Fil and Huds have been playing great for us all year. Hopefully there’s another gear there that can help our team even more.”
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