NHL

KELLEY: Avs' Forsberg a force once again

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 

DENVER

You can't miss Peter Forsberg in the Colorado Avalanche dressing room. He's the one with the sly smile and all the scars. The smile is almost ever present. After all, after missing a full season of National Hockey League play, Forsberg is back doing what he does best, making plays and scoring goals in the playoffs. It makes him a very happy man. The scars, well, they're a big part of the reason Forsberg took the season off. There's the trace scar from where he had his spleen removed during the playoffs last season. There's the cuts on his ankles where he twice had surgery to repair tendon problems, the last one barely four months ago. There are other marks of a hockey player, the cuts around the face and eyes, the callused feet, the ugly welts and dark and ominous bruises. "Part of the game," Forsberg says. "That's the way hockey is played today. Every game is a very physical game." Well, yes and no. Every game Forsberg plays has always been very physical. Though he is superbly talented and could easily get by (and get paid) just playing a finesse game, Forsberg doesn't seem capable of ever pulling back from his drive-to-the-net style. It's a style that has made him the unofficial best player in the NHL today. Though he's never been awarded that trophy, most every player will tell you that Forsberg is the complete package. He skates, shoots and scores like teammate Joe Sakic or Washington forward Jaromir Jagr, the two most recent recipients of the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP. Unlike Jagr and most other scorers, however, Forsberg plays a superb defensive game and an equally solid physical game. That's why he's earned the respect of the majority of players around the NHL and is leading the playoffs in scoring despite not having played in the regular season. "Peter is Peter," says Avs coach Bob Hartley. "What else can you say? He is so creative and patient with the puck. That's what makes him such a special player. As a playmaker, he has the ability to make plays that other players don't. He's also very good at opening up the ice for other players. He has that ability to draw players toward him and then deliver the puck to the open man. That creates a lot of space and opportunity for others to score." The stats bear that out. Through 16 games, Forsberg leads all playoff performers with 24 points — two-thirds of those are assists (eight goals, 16 assists). He also leads all remaining players in shooting percentage (27.6 percent) and has three game-winning goals and one that tied a game. It's a surprising performance given the time away, but if you put Forsberg in that ultra-elite club of great players who can take time off and still perform at a very high level — think Mario Lemieux, Pat LaFontaine, Wayne Gretzky — it's not unheard of. "Peter is special," says linemate Steven Reinprecht. "How many players do you know who can miss a whole season and step right in and play like that? He plays at such a high level that he makes you play that way too. When you step on the ice with him, he's so good that he makes you look good. He elevates the game of everyone he plays with." Added Hartley: "His numbers are unbelievable. We knew he would return at a high level, but what we didn't know was how much time it would take for him to feel comfortable again. We knew he had been working out and that he was in good physical condition, but there are all the things like timing and game condition. In that regard we didn't know how good he would be. Obviously he has been excellent." That's been the case throughout the playoffs, but Hartley has been careful not to overplay his hand. Forsberg has been averaging 16 to 17 minutes, well off the time being logged by Joe Sakic (22.5), but Hartley likely will have to bump that up for Game 4 on Saturday — he simply can't afford to lose. Forsberg seems ready for that challenge. Hartley appears willing to make it happen. "I know it's an old answer," he said Friday, "but it's all going back to our dressing room, our leaders, our experience, our talent. We have been there many times, and I always liked the way we responded. Once again, we are turning ourselves (over) to our dressing room. I know they'll be ready." "We have to do more", Forsberg said. "We can't afford to sit back, we have to get on them and pressure them, pressure their defense and get them to make mistakes. We have to make this a must game. We have to get it to 2-2." That takes physical play, and it's a safe bet that Forsberg will be at the top of the list of players willing to make that happen. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Penguins, Avalanche, Capitals, Joe Sakic, Jaromir Jagr

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