COLUMBUS, Ohio – Peter Forsberg had played in 706 NHL games. This one felt different.
“It’s tough for me to beat guys one on one,” said Forsberg, making his return from a three-year hiatus with the Colorado Avalanche in Friday night’s 3-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. “I felt maybe a little slower in the beginning.”
It’s hard to imagine those words coming from Forsberg, a legendary performer in his 11 years with the Avalanche.
The 37-year-old Forsberg was put on the same line with centre Matt Duchene and right wing Milan Hejduk. He wore his familiar No. 21 Colorado sweater, finishing with one shot, two hits and a minus-2 in 22 shifts totalling 17 minutes 38 seconds of ice time.
“It was nice to see him back,” Hejduk said. “He hadn’t played for a while. He was strong on the puck.
“He did things that he did all along and he did them again.”
Forsberg wasn’t pleased with his performance, and certainly wasn’t pleased with the final score.
“I’m playing with two good players. Maybe I should just give the puck to them instead of me having it,” he said. “Hopefully we learned from each other from this game, and go from there. And win a game—that’s what we have to do. Go to Nashville (on Saturday) and try to win there.”
The Avalanche have lost six in a row and are in jeopardy of falling out of the race for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“He was arguably our best player tonight,” coach Joe Sacco said of Forsberg. “He kept his shifts short. He had good energy for the most part and was playing well.
“So I think it’s a real good step for Peter, certainly in the right direction. It’s unfortunate it doesn’t hide the fact that we still lost a game.”
The Swedish star has not played in the NHL since 2007-08, forced to end his career in North America due to a right foot injury. He played last year in the Swedish Elite League.
Forsberg began practising Jan. 22 to see if he was physically able to play. He agreed to a contract Sunday and was cleared to play Friday after ironing out some lingering immigration paperwork.
“Our line played in their corners most of the game,” Forsberg said. “We battled, we were trying, we were wrestling.
“We got it out of there a couple of times but not too many. Just overall, our team, we don’t have too much confidence right now. But from my side, I’m just going to keep working. It was my first game in a long time. I’m just going to take one game at a time and hopefully get better and better.”
Forsberg helped the Avalanche win two Stanley Cups, and captured the 2003 Hart Trophy by leading the league with 106 points (29 goals, 77 assists) in 75 games.
A two-time Olympic gold medallist , Forsberg has 249 goals and 636 assists in his 707 games.
Even after all those nights on the ice, he said he was anxious Friday night.
“It’s tough when it’s a loss but it’s good to get it out of the way,” he said. “We’ve got to start winning here. So, what can I say? Hopefully I won’t be as nervous tomorrow.”