The moment Dustin Brown’s elbow connected with Jason Pominville’s head with three games left in the regular season last April, the Wild’s playoff chances against Chicago changed.
The Wild acquired the Buffalo Sabres captain to supply a much-needed jolt of offense to a team in dire need. Pominville amassed nine points his first 10 games, but a concussion and whiplash knocked the durable player from the Wild lineup.
Coach Mike Yeo was forced to scramble his lines and, even after Pominville returned for Game 4 against the Blackhawks, it was clear he was not himself.
This season, not only did Pominville tie for 16th in the NHL with 30 goals, he led the Wild with 60 points and recorded three points twice in the final three games.
Asked if it’s good to see Pominville heating up just in time for the Wild’s first-round playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche, Yeo said, “It’s good to see him going into the playoffs this year.”
The Wild is heading the postseason with a completely different second line than last year. As long as the next two days of practice go well, Mikael Granlund is expected to return from a head injury and make his NHL playoff debut Thursday. He would center veteran Matt Moulson, who had 13 points in 20 games since being acquired from Buffalo on March 5, and Pominville.
Pominville, 31, often is overshadowed by captain Mikko Koivu and second-leading scorer Zach Parise, but there is no doubt the Wild will be expecting production from Pominville against the Avalanche.
“He can do it in so many different ways,” NBC analyst Pierre McGuire said Monday. “He’s a 5-on-5 scorer, he’s a power-play threat, both from the top of the circle and also up by the blue line because he’s a great distributor and he can also shoot the wicked one-timer.
“You put it all together, and he might be the most well-rounded player on their team in terms of being a pure scorer, a really good defensive player and a special teams specialist. There are other guys that are flashier — Koivu, Parise. But Jason Pominville just does his job all the time. He’s like a good defenseman — you don’t notice him until you see his stats at the end of the night.”
In his seven full non-lockout seasons, Pominville played all 82 games six times. And this season was the sixth time he hit the 60-point plateau, and he proved especially important this season because of injuries at the same time to Koivu and Parise.
“It was overlooked the time when Zach and Mikko went out,” Yeo said. “There was obviously a void in the skill level and the talent level that we were putting on the ice. He stepped up big time at that time. But it was also a void in terms of our leadership at that time. I really saw him take his leadership to another level.”
Pominville said that maybe he was a little more vocal, but he did nothing different from what he normally does.
“Maybe people just took more notice of it because the big guns were out,” Pominville said in his soft-spoken manner.
Helping the kids
Pominville has filled that Matt Cullen role on the Wild. Cullen was largely credited last season for helping Jason Zucker learn the nuances of the game. Cullen always was seen chatting Zucker’s ear off on the bench.
Pominville has done the same with Granlund and rookie Erik Haula, who scored seven points in seven games as Pominville’s center after Granlund was hurt.
“Some things people don’t see is how he helps me build that puck confidence and confidence to make plays,” Haula said. “He’s always helping in practice and in games and off the ice, and it helps me believe in myself all the time.”
Pominville is simply glad to be entering the playoffs feeling good and healthy. He has played in 43 playoff games, has scored a series-clinching overtime goal in 2006 against Dany Heatley’s Ottawa Senators, has played in two Eastern Conference finals.
“This is why you play,” Pominville said. “This team reminds me of my first year in the league [with Buffalo]. We weren’t the best team in the league, but we came in under the radar, did really well in the playoffs and lost in Game 7 to Carolina, who ended up winning the Stanley Cup.
“The teams were similar heading into the playoffs. Playoffs are so long, but series are so short. If you’re feeling good about your game going in, if you’re playing well going in and win early, you gain momentum and that can sway things quickly.”