In front of Price, Axelsson paid the price
For the last four games of the regular season, P.J. Axelsson was absent with an undisclosed injury.
Last night, Axelsson returned to the lineup - he skated on the top line with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel - and was punished as his reward. It's a thumping, however, that he was probably happy to take.
In the third period, Axelsson drove to the net, turned his back to goalie Carey Price, and rooted himself in the slot. Crack came a stick in the back from Josh Gorges. And off went the defenseman for cross-checking Axelsson, allowing Zdeno Chara to blast home the winning goal at 11:15.
Axelsson's work wasn't over. At the other end, defenseman Patrice Brisebois had a close-range look against Tim Thomas that could have resulted in the tying strike. But Axelsson stepped in front of Brisebois's shot and took the puck off his left leg, a shot that dropped the left wing and sent him hobbling off the ice.
The puck, meanwhile, came nowhere near Thomas.
"It goes back to selflessness," said Aaron Ward. "He's the epitome of a selfless player. He steps up. He'll block any shot, except for Z in practice. He gets a free card there. But he's a guy that when it comes down to it, his defensive responsibilities are taken care of first. He's a guy you can rely on. He's a guy that sometimes gets a bad rep because as a forward, he doesn't always show up on the game sheet. But if you ask players in this locker room, he's a guy that contributes in ways we understand. He's one of the reasons why we're here."
Axelsson, who served as the second alternate captain last night, skated 22 shifts for 15:16. He landed three hits and recorded one blocked shot. Axelsson was not available for comment after the game.
"It's nice to have him back," said coach Claude Julien. "He's an experienced guy who excels in a defensive role. He's a smart player. Him on Savvy's line allows us not to get too overwhelmed or trying to spend too much time matching lines."
"Obviously, there's too many players to put them all in the lineup," said Julien. "But there's going to come a point where everybody's going to have to play. They just have to stay ready. Our team is really focused on what's important for the team. They're willing to make the sacrifices that are needed in order for our team to be successful. So I don't think that's going to be an issue. It doesn't mean it's easy to accept. I think I'd be disappointed if a player just said, 'Oh, that's OK.' It shouldn't be OK, but 'I'll be ready when you need me.' That's all I need to hear."