DETROIT – Damien Brunner’s first season in the NHL has had its share of highs and share of lows.
And he’s gotten to experience a lot of the highs and lows in a short amount of time during this year’s playoffs.
In the third period of Game 3, Brunner had the puck stripped away by Ryan Getzlaf at the end of a long shift, just as a Wings power play was about to expire, and it led to Anaheim’s second goal in a 4-0 victory.
On Monday, he saw his ice time reduced to just over 11 minutes.
But then came the high as he followed up a rush by Gustav Nyquist and banged home the game winner in a Wings 3-2 win in overtime over the Ducks.
“We used him more sparingly just because the other guys were playing heavier on the puck,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s a guy that just flat out scores. He knows how to score. He’s going to be a good Red Wing in time. He’s going to learn how to play right. He’s going to learn how to play heavy. You don’t have to be heavy to play heavy, but he’ll figure this stuff out.
“The other thing about a guy that likes to score is he likes to be out there on the ice,” Babcock continued. “And when you look at the minutes and you don’t get the minutes you want you figure out a way to do something about that.”
The only player that saw less time than Brunner in Game 4 was Anaheim’s Kyle Palmier (10:09).
Despite his ups and downs, Brunner leads the team in scoring with two goal and two assists.
“I felt terrible,” Brunner said about the turnover in Game 3. “It was obviously my mistake that we didn’t have a chance to come back because we fell apart after that mistake. It was a terrible night. I couldn’t sleep at all but the guys did a great job the next morning cheering me up a little bit. That’s what you appreciate. It’s my first year in the NHL, you make a mistake like that and you blame yourself the most. It doesn’t go away. The guys picked it up for me, it was awesome.”
Defenseman Brendan Smith and forward Pavel Datsyuk had no trouble trying to lighten the mood in the locker room with Brunner after the turnover.
“It was funny, I first come in and Smitty made a funny joke, he said, ‘Congats, you made the highlights,’ then Pav made a couple jokes and I got a couple text messages from my friends back home that I should call the league and make sure I get the assist,” Brunner continued. “You’ve got to laugh about it because you can’t get it out of your head.”
On Monday, Nyquist took an outlet pass from Joakim Andersson and tried to race down the puck after it hooped off his stick as he split the Ducks defense.
Barely getting off a shot as Jonas Hiller took a poke at the puck, the rebound laid in the crease as an alert Brunner, who was trailing the play, swooped in and quickly found the back of the net to even the series with Anaheim.
The ups and downs have been nothing new for Brunner.
After getting off to a torrid pace with 10 goals in his first 19 games to start the season, Brunner went 15 games without scoring a goal. He also found himself a healthy scratch one game during the slump.
“As a goal scorer you’re not happy when you’re not scoring,” Brunner said at the time. “But on the other side you can’t put yourself under too much pressure because the more you want it, you try to push it and it’s not going to work.”