PHILADELPHIA – Ville Leino has picked the right time to get hot for the Philadelphia Flyers.
The 26-year-old left-winger was a healthy scratch for the Flyers first four playoff games this season, and only got into the lineup for the final game of the first round against the New Jersey Devils.
But after that he averaged a point per game over the next nine, including two assists in a series-opening 6-0 blowout of the Montreal Canadiens to open the NHL Eastern Conference final.
He followed that with a goal and an assist Tuesday as the Flyers beat the Habs 3-0 and took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
For a player with nine goals and 20 assists in 68 career regular-season games, that is exceptional.
”I’m enjoying every day and making the best of it,” Leino said before Tuesday’s game. ”It’s the best time of year—the weather’s good and there’s good hockey.”
It has taken the six-for-one left-winger time to establish himself in the NHL since he was signed by the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 after leading the Finnish club Jokerit in scoring.
He played seven games during Detroit’s run to the Stanley Cup final last spring, but got into only 42 games this season before he was traded to the Flyers on Feb. 6 for Norwegian defenceman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and a fifth-round draft pick in 2011.
Even when he got to Philadelphia, he was often a healthy scratch. He ended up with two goals and two assists in only 13 games for the Flyers.
”You’re shocked, you’re disappointed, and you think maybe you’re not good enough, but after that I thought it’s a good trade, it’s nice here,” he said. ”It was a tough start.
”I didn’t play, (only) now and then, right into the playoffs. But this is my chance now.”
Leino played every game of the Flyers’ remarkable seven-game win over Boston in the conference semifinals, when they came back from a 3-0 series deficit and a trailed 3-0 in Game 7 but pulled off an improbable victory. He had two goals and five assists in the series.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said that sometimes when a player is a regular scratch it has ”nothing to do with the reflection of that player.”
He said the team was healthy and was winning games when Leino arrived, so there was no place for him. But when injuries started up, he got his chance and gradually found himself.
”I think he’s gained more confidence in himself, with his teammates, with his line and certainly with me,” Laviolette said. ”He’s been excellent for us in the playoffs—a very skilled player.”
Leino has moved from perhaps the most consistently good club year after year in Detroit to a Flyers team with a whole different culture and approach to the sport.
”Everyone knows the Red Wings are the most professional organization in hockey,” he said. “It’s the same here.
”The brand of hockey is different. It’s the toughest team in hockey. It’s very different, but there’s a lot of good things in both organizations.”