DETROIT – When Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock talks about Damien Brunner he always finds a way to fit in two words, “he scores.”
Babcock is correct.
Brunner netted his fourth goal of the postseason in Detroit’s 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 2 Saturday afternoon.
“He wants the puck and he scores,” Babcock said. “Anybody who wants the puck and plays with the kind of speed he has is valuable. He’s going to get better just because he’s going to get bigger and stronger, he’s going to learn the league more. He’s better defensively already. We think we’ve got a good player.”
The goal ties him for the team lead in the playoffs with Johan Franzen.
He’s also second on the team, tied with Pavel Datsyuk in points, with seven.
“He’s a sniper,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “That’s what he’s been doing all along for us, all season long. We’re happy to have him. He finds a way to get goals.”
And Sunday’s goal was one where he just skated through the slot and redirected in soft, floating shot from the point by Jakub Kindl.
“I really don’t think he has a clue what’s going on,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “I don’t think he understands the realm of things, of what could possibly happen here as the playoffs unfold. He’s in a good mood every single day. He comes to the rink with a smile on his face and when he’s out there he’s doing the right things. He’s going to the net. When you’re out there and competing like he’s competing, pucks go in for you.”
Brunner also netted the Wings’ lone goal in Game 1 and would have had a second one, but Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook was able to whack his shot out of midair to keep it from crossing the goal line.
“He’s a smart player, he’s scored a lot of goals in his career, he keeps doing it,” forward Henrik Zetterberg said.
Zetterberg has known Brunner the longest in the locker room after playing with him in the Swiss National A league during the lockout.
“I saw that he was a good player,” Zetterberg said. “He’s really good offensively. He still has some to learn defensively. But when you start playing in the system, you start learning that and I think he’s been improving all year.
“He’s strong on his stick, he’s strong when he battles for the puck,” Zetterberg added. “I think he improved a lot in protecting the puck. In (Switzerland) you don’t have to protect the puck that much in the offensive end, but I think he’s become a lot better since he came here.”
Brunner’s first season in the NHL has had its share of highs and share of lows.
In the third period of Game 3 in the Wings’ opening series with Anaheim, Brunner had the puck stripped away by the Ducks’ 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.
In Game 4, Brunner followed up a rush by Gustav Nyquist and banged home the game winner in a Wings 3-2 win in overtime over the Ducks.
“It’s a new experience, also the travel, going back and forth and playing every other day,” Brunner said. “We got used to that already during the season so that helped a little bit. But it’s fun. It’s intense and all the fans are into it so it’s a lot of fun out there.”
Brunner also seemed to hit a wall during the regular season as well.
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.
Since Babcock took Brunner off one of the top two lines, it has seemed to re-engage his forward and now that third line, which is rounded out by Nyquist and Joakim Andersson, is flying.
“Obviously I’m happy that the puck’s bouncing for me right now,” Brunner said.