He only has two games of NHL playoff experience, but rookie defenseman Adam Larsson has already had an impact for the New Jersey Devils. In Game 2 against the Flyers in Philadelphia (during a four-on-four) Larsson tied the game at one by snapping a wrist shot past enigmatic goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, setting the foundation for a four-goal outburst that saw New Jersey wrestle home-ice away from the higher-seeded Flyers. But that wasn’t the only impact Larsson had in that game, despite getting only 13:15 of ice-time in 18 shifts, the 19-year-old led all skaters in the game with five hits. His first few shifts were understandably jittery, but after that he was more sure handed and played a solid game alongside veteran d-man Anton Volchenkov.
Larsson was inserted into the lineup by coach Pete DeBoer when Ilya Kovalchuk’s lower body injury forced the sniper to miss Game 2, but few believed it would be Larsson that picked up the scoring slack. “I’m not a goal scorer, so I was happy for that,” he said afterwards. “I think you could see that it got everyone going after that; we scored two, three, four there so you could see it was important.”
Larsson hadn’t played in a game since April 7 against Ottawa in the regular season finale, but with the help of assistant coaches Larry Robinson and Scott Stevens, the young Swede was more than ready for the challenge. “Here’s a kid that has sat for eight games and worked to keep himself in shape and jumps into a playoff game and does what he does,” said DeBoer. “It says a lot about his character.”
His composure also didn’t go unnoticed by his teammates either. “I think I was as excited as he was,” right wing David Clarkson said. “He’s a great kid in this locker room the way he’s handled himself being out of the lineup. He comes back, scores that big goal and there’s a not better young kid in the league you could ask for than him, so it was pretty exciting to see him score.”
In Game 3 Larsson didn’t score another goal, or register a point, but he was still an important part of the Devils 4-3 overtime win, giving New Jersey a 2-1 series lead. He logged 20:32 of ice-time, fifth among the six defenseman, and was on the ice for Alexei Ponikarovsky’s winning goal late in the OT, showing his coach has confidence in him in tight games.
“Regardless if guys are getting on the scoresheet or not, everyone is playing well and doing their job well,” said captain Zach Parise. “It’s fun.” Larsson is now having fun too, after the fourth overall pick in last June’s draft waited patiently for his chance. “We never quit and we never stopped trusting our system,” he said, sounding like a veteran after Game 3. “It’s a great win for us. I felt pretty good today.”
“The first game I felt good, but didn’t recover the way I wanted (during the game). My legs felt a lot better today, you have to get a few shifts in your legs after sitting that long. It was nice, but the next game is just as important as this one, so we can’t relax now.”
After watching two overtime celebrations from the press box, Larsson was finally able to be part of one when Ponikarovsky netted the winning goal late in the extra session. “That, was fun,” he said with a big grin.”
Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiablo321 and email: firstname.lastname@example.org.