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Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Pregame report: Huet's reflections, 'Mario Kart' battles and Swedish lessons

DETROIT -- Blackhawks star winger Martin Havlat didn't speak to reporters today after the morning skate at Joe Louis Arena.

He took part in the skate even though he was seen limping Monday when he got to the rink. He took a hard hit from Niklas Kronwall in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.

"He's playing," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said today.

When later asked whether Havlat would be limited in any way, Quenneville said, "No."

Star blueliner Duncan Keith, key forward Patrick Sharp and checking center Samuel Pahlsson were among other notables who didn't skate this morning.

"We had an optional skate today," Quenneville said. "We had six or seven guys who didn't skate. Don't read into it at all."

Remember Huet?
In July 2008, when Cristobal Huet signed a four-year, $22.5 million contact to join the Blackhawks, he probably would not have believed it if someone had told him he would be on the bench watching as the team reached the conference finals 10 months later.

But plans change.

First, the Hawks were unable to unload Nikolai Khabibulin. Then, Khabibulin had his best season as a Hawk and wrestled the No. 1 job away from Huet as the playoffs approached. But the two veteran goalies get along great, and Huet has been the good teammate.

"It's fun watching him. He's been great for us," Huet told today. "All I can do right now is practice hard and support the team the best I can. It's not easy, but at the same time, there's not much I can do about it now. You just stay ready in case something happens."

Although Huet has three more years left on his deal that pays him $5.625 million a season, Khabibulin is slated for unrestricted free agency July 1. It'll be interesting to see how the Hawks proceed. They certainly can't have that much money tied up in goal again. In the meantime, I couldn't resist asking Huet about his former team in Montreal, given the soap-opera season the Canadiens had this year. Oh, yeah, he noticed.

"Of course, like everybody in the league, we know what's going on in other cities. Even more for me, I still have some friends in Montreal," Huet said. "It's easy to know what's going on. But I don't know what's true or not off the ice. Everybody knows what happened on the ice. They had a great start, and it kind of exploded midseason and never was the same after that."

Huet was dealt to Washington at the trade deadline in February 2008, a surprise move by the Habs that left them with the inexperienced Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak in net. I asked Huet today whether he wished the Habs had kept him longer to help shepherd young Mr. Price along, especially given Price's struggles this season.

"Well, I felt like Montreal was a great place for me. I really enjoyed it there," Huet said. "If they would have offered me a contract during the year, maybe I would have stayed. But who knows. My time was due with Carey coming. That's the way it is. It's not easy to play in net for Montreal. I think Carey is a great goalie, and he'll be fine."

Swede talking
While standing in the middle of the Wings' dressing room at Joe Louis Arena this morning, I wondered how often Swedish conversations drown out the English ones in here.

"Once in a while, we catch ourselves. But we try not to. Quite frankly, I think it's rude for the others," said forward Mikael Samuelsson, one of eight Swedes on the team.

Canadian veteran Kris Draper was hearing my conversation with Samuelsson and interrupted.

"Pierre, I've got a question I want you to ask Mikael," Draper said with a big smile. "Ask him who the worst offender is."

"Homer is the worst," a laughing Samuelsson said without hesitation, referring to Tomas Holmstrom. "Sometimes you ask him a question in English and he answers in Swedish."

Mario Fraser?
Colin Fraser's nameplate was taped over with a new moniker in the visitor's dressing room today: "Mario."

Inquiring minds want to know.

"Oh, in hotels we have our own little lounge, and we've been playing 'Mario Kart' on the Nintendo Wii," Fraser explained. "My character is Mario. Guys have been giving me a pretty hard time because I haven't been up to speed. I haven't been playing very well, and I've been sent back to the minors. I was demoted to the B-game. I have to pick up my socks, and they're just giving me a hard time.

"It's not my game, I have to stick to hockey," Fraser added, laughing.

For the record, Fraser said Swedish rookie blueliner Niklas Hjalmarsson is the champ at "Mario Kart."

"He really doesn't put in the time that other guys do, but he is the No. 1 player right now, I think," Fraser said. "He's just a natural. He doesn't need to even work hard at it. He just takes command of the game."

(Maybe it's just me, but do you think any of the grizzled Red Wings play video games?)

As if being terrible at the team's favorite video game isn't bad enough, Fraser was red-faced Sunday afternoon when he skated out for the pregame warm-up and fell to the ice.

"I stepped on a puck on the ice and fell right down on my stomach," Fraser said. "I was swimming out there. Maybe the nerves got to me, I'm not sure."

Last season, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury garnered some giggles when he also tripped and fell after hitting the ice for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.

"That's the first thing I thought of," Fraser said. "So I'm not the only guy to do it, and it's good to see a star player has done it before, too."