Eric Brewer gets chance to shine in playoffs

BOSTON -- For some players, the playoffs are a given. For others, they are a gift.

For Tampa defenseman Eric Brewer, who first played in the NHL for the New York Islanders in 1998-99 but had not reached the postseason ball since 2003, there have been a lot of empty springs.

"It's nice. You forget how much of a reward it is to get an opportunity when you don't get it," Brewer told ESPN.com. "It's so hard. Half the league doesn't make it every year, and a lot of good teams don't make it. We felt like we had a really good team over the years in St. Louis and [didn't] make it, so you never really know how close you are because you're not in. It's a fine line between winning and losing. There are so many things out of your control. You really have to take the good when you get it."

The one season the Blues did qualify for the postseason while Brewer was there was in 2009, but he was out with a bad back and Vancouver swept St. Louis in the first round.

As time passes for a player and the playoffs continue to elude you, it is natural to wonder if you'll ever get back there.

"You're constantly looking for ways to make things better, and you're looking at what's working, what's not working," Brewer said. "But at the end of the day, you can only control your own game and being a positive contributor, and then the team stuff is clearly not in our hands."

Brewer, who was selected by the Islanders with the fifth overall pick in the 1997 draft, had a no-trade clause, but he knew the Blues' plans didn't include him moving forward. He recalled GM Doug Armstrong asking to meet with him before this season's trade deadline.

"When the GM calls you for a meeting in the afternoon a couple of weeks before the deadline and you're 10 points out, you've got a pretty good idea," Brewer said with a chuckle. "And it wasn't at the rink, and he bought, and was there before me."

Although he won't discuss how many teams were interested in his services, the Lightning appealed to Brewer on a number of levels. He played with GM Steve Yzerman at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, where Canada won a gold medal. He also played for Team Canada in 2007 when Yzerman put together its World Championships squad.

You never know, of course, whether something like this will work out or not. The Tomas Kaberle trade, for instance, across this series, hasn't panned out at all for the Bruins. But Brewer's fit in Tampa couldn't have worked out any better.

"I think when I looked at it, just kind of looked at what the team was doing, where they were placed, the game that they were playing, would it be a good fit for me," said Brewer, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. "After that, it's just a roll of the dice, for lack of a better term. You never know until you get there and you get playing. You've got to give it a few weeks and understand what it is."

Brewer has played a key role in shutting down opposing teams' top lines. His work against Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom was exemplary in the second round. He also plays on the power play, although he joked there is a reason he's not doing a lot of puck-handling out there, not with guys like Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier around.

Still, Brewer is the Lightning's leader in average ice time per game (26:03) and hits (35), and leads all NHL playoff performers with 43 blocked shots.

"He's played really well for us. He's fit into the locker room well," Yzerman said.

For Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher, Brewer's arrival has fulfilled many items on the team's pre-playoff wish list.

"We knew we had a hole to fill. We knew that probably since day one," Boucher said. "I think that being able to get Brewer was exactly what we needed. We needed somebody that was going to be able to log a lot of minutes, have the speed to play against top lines that are fast, have the size to play against bigger lines, be able to play on the power play and the penalty kill and have leadership.

"So if you put that down as a shopping list, that's a pretty big shopping list that chances are you're not going to be able to fill. And obviously Mr. Yzerman has done an incredible job at being able to bring in this player that's made a tremendous impact on our team."

Here's an interesting note.

Tuesday's Game 2 will be Brewer's 13th postseason game this spring. Heading into the playoffs, he played a combined 12 NHL playoff games in his entire career.

Did we mention the gift of the postseason?