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Vet Pahlsson A Perfect Fit With Young Blackhawks

05/25/2009 6:42 PM

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There's a brash, "make-my-day" confidence that drives the Chicago Blackhawks. At times, you'd think there's no fear in this young bunch. But there are still times when they need a veteran touch in key situations.

Like in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, when 31-year-old center Sammy Pahlsson, Olympic gold medalist with Sweden in 2006 and Stanley Cup champion with Anaheim in 2007, provided a key contribution.

It was Pahlsson's tip-in of a shot by defenseman Duncan Keith that helped the Blackhawks open up a 3-0 lead early in the second period. And it was Pahlsson, who found a way to rifle a pass through a maze of players in front of the Detroit net to Patrick Sharp for the winning goal 1:52 into overtime for a 4-3 victory.

"He definitely brings a level of calmness to our young team,” Patrick sharp said. “He's a guy during the game you might not notice, but then after the game, you realize the impact he has.

"He's a Selke Trophy candidate (best defensive forward in the NHL). He's shut down some of the best lines in the game. He's a gold medalist and Stanley Cup champion. All in all, he's an impact player."

Said Detroit center Kris Draper, "There are some guys who only score 10-15 goals, but prevent another 40 or 50 with their defense ... like they have a 50-goal scorer's impact. Sammy Pahlsson is that effective."

Pahlsson is one of those late-season acquisitions that over the years we have watched spark a team down the stretch and in the playoffs. He was acquired at the NHL trading deadline from the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman James Wisniewski. Though he was sidelined when the Blackhawks made the trade -- from Jan. 31 to March 18 with a bout of mononucleosis -- Sammy was clearly worth the wait.

"I wanted to jump right on the ice for my new team, but I couldn't," Pahlsson remembers. "I lost 10-15 pounds and still feel like I'm not back to 100 percent. But I wouldn't miss the playoffs.

“I've gotten as much out of this change as the Hawks have," Pahlsson said. "This young group is alive. Fearless. That has made me feel younger. I don't feel I have to score points all the time to be effective here. But I know I can when it counts."

"Sammy's extremely funny. A dry sense of humor and a good teammate," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "He's really smart about the way he plays and the way he prepares for a game. In the room here, some of us call him ‘The Wizard.’"

Sharp said he didn't see Sammy in the corner with the puck just knew he was in a spot where he could perhaps get a good scoring opportunity.

Pahlsson, playing in his first game on a line with Sharp and Kris Versteeg, said, "That's where I thought Patrick should be ... would be."

First game together and a magical winning goal. That's experience. It's savvy. Most important, it's an intelligent player making smart decisions under pressure.

Pahlsson is one of those hungry, late-blooming players we see so often in crucial situations at this time of the year. He was a seventh-round pick, 176th overall, in the 1996 Entry Draft by the Colorado Avalanche. The Boston Bruins thought so much of his potential that they included him in their deal with Colorado when he was just a prospect for Hall of Famer Ray Bourque back in March of 2000.

Sammy is one of those low-maintenance veterans who wins faceoffs at a rate more consistent than Michael Jordan hitting jumpers at the buzzer in Chicago, he plays the defensive shutdown job at center that helped Sweden win a gold medal and the Ducks win a Cup and, oh yes, he has an offensive touch most people don't know about.

In Round 1, Pahlsson's defensive technique and work ethic helped the Blackhawks hold Calgary star Jarome Iginla to just three goals in six games. In the next round, the hot-scoring Sedins twins were neutralized by Sammy and Co. But in Game 3 against Detroit, it was Pahlsson's sometimes hidden offensive skills that came to life.

I'll never forget former Anaheim GM Brian Burke giving me an rather prophetic evaluation before the Ducks won the Cup in 2007, when he said; "Sammy's a Swede, but he thinks he's from Red Deer. He's gritty and tough as nails to play against. A definite impact player."

At about the same time, Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer offered this testimonial; "He's strong and smart. Give him an assignment and he's relentlessly passionate about shutting down that player or that line."

Don't kid yourself, he's not a 50-goal guy -- usually scores about 10 a year and he erases 40 or more goals by opponents. Pahlsson is just the kind of guy you need with a young, inexperienced playoff team, a guy who packs a punch and is relentless in his ability to check an opponent into submission.

"His awareness about where to be positionally, strength in faceoffs, penalty killing for us, he's a real responsible guy, a great pro," said coach Joel Quenneville.

Strong. Smart. Relentless. Impact player.

"Winning breeds winning," Chicago GM Dale Tallon said. "He has been successful as a defensive, two-way centerman against the top players in the League. He's a strong character guy who can play both ends of the rink and gives us that veteran presence up the middle."

And his presence has been clearly on display during the Blackhawks’ playoff run.

Author: Larry Wigge | Columnist