NHL

Mueller makes big return from concussion

Hockey Primetime Mike Cook
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Peter Mueller has been dealing with concussion issues for most of the past two seasons. Less than a week after returning to action with the Colorado Avalanche, he had a game he won’t soon forget.

The right wing scored his first two goals of the season and had an assist in Colorado's 4-3 overtime win over Florida last Wednesday.

“It was almost somewhat surreal what happened out there. It was just good vibes,” Mueller told 104.3 The Fan in Denver. “After the first one, the whole world kind of stopped for a second. … It was so overwhelming; I was thinking about how many days and the amount of time I was sidelined with this injury here. It was an overcoming achievement for me.”

The tallies were his first since April 2010. Mueller missed all of last season and all but the first three games of this season with concussion symptoms.

"It feels unbelievable," Mueller said after the win. "I wish I could explain more how good it feels to get that one out of the way. Everyone has been so supportive through this whole process. What a night to cap it off."

He also scored the go-ahead goal in Saturday’s 3-1 win in Los Angeles, doing so by tipping a 45-foot wrist shot from T.J. Galiardi.

"We're really happy for him. He's been through a tough battle," Avalanche goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere said after that game. "None of us can even imagine what that's like. But he's having fun right now, which he didn't have for the last two years. And it's nice to see that."

Mueller now wears larger shoulder pads and a custom-fitted helmet that loops around his ears to better cushion his head and neck. A tinted visor reduces the reflection from arena lights.

At the start of training camp Mueller thought he would be ready for the Avs' season opener, but that may have been a case of excitement obscuring reality. He played without much success in the first three games, before recurring symptoms caused him to miss 40 games until Jan. 12 in Nashville.

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Saying Mueller was frustrated is an understatement.

“With the type of injury like that you almost feel like you’re disconnected from the team. You don’t want to bother them and they don’t want to bother you because you’re trying to recover,” he said. “But on the same note it’s tough. Any athlete that says they like being away from their teammates, I don’t think that’s true. Being around the guys you’re family, it’s your second family and it’s a great feeling rekindling those friendships and get back to where you used to be.”

Coach Joe Sacco has given Mueller more ice time each game. He raised it from just over 13 minutes in Nashville to nearly 20 minutes Sunday in Anaheim.

“The more chances, the more shifts I’m out there I’m going to get more comfortable with the puck,” Mueller said.

His teammates can’t help but notice the smile on Mueller’s face and the upbeat attitude he adds to the locker room.

“The biggest thing I see is his spirits and personality," center Paul Stastny said. "When he’s outgoing and talking, that's when you know he's feeling his best. He's been through such a rough go the last two years."

Mueller is now part of a roster that has gone 12-5-1 in its last 18 games to climb back into the playoff hunt.

“We can’t take nights off, and certain teams at this checkpoint of the season kind of tend to do that,” Mueller said. “The games leading into the All-Star break are huge for us. … It’s about competing each and every night, knowing you’re going to out there and put the hard hat on and try to get those two points.”

Northwest Division notes:

Entering Tuesday, the Calgary Flames are 5-1-1 in their last seven games. … Calgary’s Lee Stempniak had his second career hat trick in the Flames' 6-2 rout of Edmonton on Saturday. Stempniak had one goal in his previous 20 games. … Calgary has won 16 of 17 games versus the Oilers. … Flames left wing Alex Tanguay, out since suffering a neck injury just before Christmas, took part in Saturday’s morning skate, but isn't ready for a return to action. … Colorado is 7 for 50 on the power play over its last 18 games. … Avs captain Milan Hejduk has just two goals in his past 24 games and both have been in Anaheim, as he scored on New Year's Eve and again Sunday night. … The Denver Post reported that Avalanche center Matt Duchene, out since Dec. 29 with a left knee injury, has yet to resume skating. … Colorado is 10-2 at home since Nov. 30. … Edmonton snapped a three-game skid with a 2-1 shootout victory against the Sharks on Monday. It was just the team’s sixth win in its past 26 outings. … The Edmonton Sun reported that Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini will be offered a contract extension. … Edmonton has just six wins away from Rexall Place, the second-worst mark in the league. Anaheim, Carolina and Columbus have just five wins away from their home rinks. … Oilers right wing Jordan Eberle has been added to the 2012 NHL All-Star Weekend. … The Wild practiced outside Sunday with fans surrounding the rink. … Chad Rau, a native of Eden Prairie, Minn., scored the game winner in his NHL debut Saturday. He became the 13th Minnesotan to play for the franchise. … Wild GM Chuck Fletcher confirmed Monday that center Mikko Koivu will miss the All-Star Game because of his shoulder injury. Meanwhile, winger Nick Johnson will represent the team as a rookie in the skills competition. … Right wing Dany Heatley had a goal and two assists for his first three-point game of the season Saturday. … The Wild played at Colorado for the first time Tuesday, yet Minnesota has already made all its trips to Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver for the season. The Wild will be trying to avoid a franchise-record 12th straight road loss. … Vancouver center Cody Hodgson, who had his first career two-goal game Saturday, has increased his point total every month. The rookie was had two goals and an assist for three points in October, 2-6-8 in November, 4-5-9 in December and is 5-4-9 through nine January games. … G Roberto Luongo became Vancouver's all-time winningest goaltender as he recorded his 212th victory in a Canucks uniform Saturday and broke the old mark set by Kirk McLean. … D Sami Salo hoped to return Tuesday. He’s missed six games since being upended by Brad Marchand in Boston.

Tagged: Flames, Oilers, Avalanche, Canucks, Wild, Peter Mueller

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