Day by day, Mikael Granlund’s fat lip seems to be gaining weight.
The right side of his upper lip protrudes so far, it almost reaches the bottom of his lower lip. It’s a battle scar of what has been an impressive first round for the highly competitive Wild center-turned-left wing.
“I feel every game I get hit there, so I guess [the fat lip’s] going to get even bigger,” Granlund said Saturday after the Wild had a crisp practice in preparation for its latest win-or-season’s over clash with the Stars.
Granlund played a huge role in Friday’s Game 5 victory, so much so that NBC Sports Network analyst Ray Ferraro proclaimed after Mikko Koivu ended things in overtime that Granlund should be the game’s first star.
Granlund scored the first goal by stealing the puck and then muscling it into the net. On Koivu’s tying goal late in the third period, Granlund chipped a shot behind the net, hustled to get there first, won a battle and sent a perfect feed in front for Koivu. Then, before Koivu’s overtime winner, Granlund dug the puck out from the side boards.
Granlund led all forwards with a career-high 25 minutes, 10 seconds of ice time, had four shots and three blocked shots.
Ferraro was a 400-goal scorer in the NHL and, like Granlund, stands 5-10.
“When you are relatively our size, when somebody hits you, you are almost always the smaller guy and the impacts really take their toll on you,” Ferraro said. “But I’ve never wondered about his competitiveness or willingness to get into a tough spot to make a play. He works hard, he’s determined, he’s got some of that Finnish stubbornness to him. I really like the way he’s played in this series.”
The physical stuff
There’s a reason interim coach John Torchetti says Granlund has the “heart of a lion.”
As skilled as Granlund is, he never wanes from sacrificing his body by initiating a check or blocking a shot.
“He’s a smaller guy, but he definitely plays like a big guy,” teammate Nino Niederreiter said.
Granlund, 24, missed 19 games two years ago and 14 games last season due to injuries. And while the grit and courage he plays with is impressive, Ferraro said he felt Granlund was getting hit too much.
“Every year for him has been cut short or interrupted by injury except this year,” Ferraro said. “I don’t think people understand when you get hurt, the whole league continues on and you’re falling behind.
“It’s like you’re going down the street walking after a car. You never quite catch it. I’m convinced that really hurt him, and to play 82 games this year was a big deal for him.”
Granlund said those words verbatim Saturday.
“I think it was my first year as a pro I ever played every game. It was huge,” said Granlund, who scored a career-high 13 goals and 44 points.
Granlund says while he hasn’t completely changed his game, “I’m a little smarter. I don’t need to go into every tough hole. At the same time, I want to keep that element in my game to battle.”
Still, he is often maligned because Wild fans expected a potential star when he was selected ninth overall in 2010.
“At no point did I ever see him stand up and say, ‘This is what I am,’ ” Ferraro said. “Other people put the expectation on him. But I think Granlund, when he’s playing with a player like Koivu who can handle a lot of the down-low heavy stuff, I think that’s where he can excel, because otherwise he’s fighting in the trough with all these big guys.
“When you’re a little guy, when you lose a battle, people look at you and say, ‘He lost the battle because he’s small,’ but when a bigger guy loses a battle, they say, ‘Oh, he lost a battle,’ and that never leaves you. So that puck that went into the corner before Koivu’s tying goal, Granlund didn’t even think, he just went and attacked it and got to it. That’s why he’s so good.”
Granlund has been more aggressive and noticeable offensively since Torchetti switched him from center to wing. He says he doesn’t feel he always has to worry anymore about being the first guy back defensively.
Torchetti still wants Granlund to shoot more. He actually finished fourth on the Wild with 160 shots this season and leads the team with 18 in the playoffs.
After watching Granlund from between the benches as an analyst the past five games, Ferraro doesn’t think Granlund’s problem is quantity as much as quality.
“When this is all over this season, if I were the Wild player development guy, I would get him in a shooting cage and I would help evaluate his stick,” Ferraro said. “He doesn’t shoot the puck near well enough for the technology that is available today. He has months to do it, and if he invests the time, he won’t score 13 goals next year.
“All I know is when he shoots it, the puck doesn’t explode off his stick. I’m a golfer. It’s like using an old technology golf club. Whatever he’s using, my opinion is it’s not right for him, and it could be the flex, it could be the curve, it could be the kick point. Everybody’s different. Like you watch Jason Spezza shoot the puck, my God, the thing just explodes off his stick. Now he’s a much bigger guy, but that doesn’t matter. There’s more technology available I’m sure for Granlund than he’s taking advantage of.”