- Craig Custance
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DETROIT -- It would have been worse if nobody mentioned it. Detroit Red Wings forward Damien Brunner didn’t sleep much on Saturday night after Ryan Getzlaf picked him clean in front of Jimmy Howard to score a back-breaking goal in the Anaheim Ducks’ Game 3 win.
Brunner momentarily laid on his stomach as Getzlaf celebrated in an excruciating moment for a young player still learning how to win in the playoffs.
When Brunner showed up at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday, it wasn’t awkward silences or teammates avoiding him.
Instead, it was guys giving him a hard time.
“I kind of threw a little chirp in there, ‘I heard you made the highlight reels,’” Smith said, smiling. “If he’s down, you have to get in there and help him out and get it over with.”
The best joke came from Brunner’s friends back home in Switzerland. One told him that he should call the league and make sure he got an assist on Getzlaf’s goal. That’s pretty good.
Some teammates preferred a tap on the shoulder or other small gesture to show they were still with him. That they knew exactly how he felt.
"It made me feel needed for the next game,” Brunner said.
That next game was Monday night. It was a crucial game the Red Wings had to win to send this series back to Anaheim in any kind of competitive form. And because it’s the playoffs, and this is how hockey goes, the guy who is crushed for a momentary lapse of judgement in one game can totally redeem himself in the next.
That moment came with less than five minutes remaining in overtime of Game 4. Red Wings rookie forward Gustav Nyquist raced toward Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller with the puck in front of him. Hiller came out for a poke check, and all Brunner saw was the back of two Ducks players as he trailed the play and skated straight to an opening in front of the net. The puck arrived at about the same time.
“It came out perfectly, and I just had to lift it over [Hiller’s] pad there,” Brunner said.
Brunner had the game winner, a 3-2 overtime win for the Red Wings, one that evened the series 2-2.
Nyquist didn’t see the goal because after racing toward Hiller, he went to the corner of the ice. A moment later he turned, and there was Brunner.
“Brunner is standing there [with] a big smile on his face,” Nyquist said. “I guess he put it in.”
It was another overtime goal by one of the Red Wings' newest forwards, as Detroit’s young players continue to keep this series interesting. Of course, it was Datsyuk who tied the game with a third-period laser, but that kind of greatness is expected from Datsyuk.
It’s the contributions from guys like Brunner and Smith, who scored his first career playoff goal in the third period, that this Detroit team relies on to keep up with the deeper, more experienced Ducks.
The veterans on the Red Wings consistently told the younger players that they needed to make this a best-of-three series. They needed this one win to do it.
Brunner’s goal of redemption made it happen. The Getzlaf turnover is already a fading memory.
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