Kopecky comes up big in his return to lineup
Sunday, 05.30.2010 / 9:56 AM CT / News
CHICAGO -- Tomas Kopecky raised his arms and pounded the glass with both hands five times as he let out a scream usually reserved for the United Center fans during "The Star-Spangled Banner."
It's the sort of joy and release of frustration that comes from sitting out five games as a healthy scratch and returning to score the winning goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Kopecky lifted the Chicago Blackhawks to a 6-5 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday by scoring with 11:35 remaining in the third period off a wonderful cross-ice pass from Kris Versteeg. Kopecky took the pass, waited for Flyers goalie Brian Boucher to drop, then moved around him and slid the puck home from a bad angle near the goal line.
That's when Kopecky unveiled his impromptu celebration where he banged on the glass while a woman in the stands stood up and returned the favor.
"It was great," Kopecky said. "There was an older lady and she was trying to get off the bench. Once she got up she started banging on the glass. It was pretty exciting. I'm not a big celebration guy. All the other guys are still giving it to me. I just go with what comes to me right away. I was just stuck in the moment."
The moment presented itself to Kopecky thanks largely to the undisclosed injury suffered by teammate Andrew Ladd during Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks. Ladd hasn't practiced since, resulting in coach Joel Quenneville re-inserting Kopecky into the lineup on a line with checking masters Versteeg and Dave Bolland.
It was almost as if Ladd never left. Kopecky also contributed an assist and finished plus-2 while helping to hold the Flyers' top line of Simon Gagne, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to no points and a combined minus-7.
"He came in and he wanted to be a difference and tonight he was," said Versteeg, whose second-period goal was set up by a great pass by Kopecky. "We're going to need more from him if we're going to be successful."
"I was nervous those first couple shifts," Kopecky admitted, "but the guys, we stick with it, and the nervousness came down a little bit during the game. When (Versteeg) got the goal, everything was kind of back to normal. You just can't think. You just got to go out there and react. That's when you're effective."
Kopecky's lack of effectiveness in a loss to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 5 of the Blackhawks' second-round series resulted in him watching the Western Conference Finals from the press box as a healthy scratch. While Kopecky never said anything publically, no athlete wants to be sitting during this time of the year.
Whether Kopecky channeled some anger in a positive way against the Flyers or learned something from watching a handful of games from a different perspective, it paid off in a big way.
"I don't know if it's ticked off, but you get to see a different aspect to the game," Hawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "Maybe you get to learn a little bit. I know the times I've been injured or sat out, I was watching and getting a different view of the game. It's nice to see Kopey back at 100 percent and he contributed with a huge goal."
Whether Kopecky gets another chance in Game 2 remains to be seen. Before Game 1, Quenneville said while Ladd was hurt, he expected him back at some point during the Final. But on Saturday night, Quenneville had nothing but praise for Kopecky and his checking line.
"Great play, good patience on the winning goal," Quenneville said. "I thought that line was very dangerous. Very effective, Bolly and Steeger really complemented Kopey. I thought that line throughout the playoffs with Laddy and Kopey. He knows how to play defensively. Their production offensively seems to be timely as far as their goals.
"But nice return to the lineup."
Kopecky isn't taking anything for granted and says he'll be ready should he be called upon again in the series.
"When you're on a good team, there's lot of talent up front," Kopecky said. "You never know when you're going to get a chance. When you do, you have to take advantage of it."
In Game 1, Kopecky most certainly did.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DLozoNHL
Author: Dave Lozo | NHL.com Staff Writer