The Swedish centre on the Anaheim Ducks’ so-called checking line admitted after practice Tuesday that he’d rather be deking goalies and scoring pretty goals than be a defensive specialist.
But he’s realistic.
“I would love to score 50 goals every season but I can’t do that,” he said. “I have a role out there and I try to do my best at that.”
He’s so good at it that he’s one of three finalists for the Selke Trophy for top defensive forward in the NHL.
Pahlsson centres a line with Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen on the wings and it had a huge impact in Anaheim’s 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in the opener of the Stanley Cup final Monday night. Game 2 is Wednesday and the three hope to again play a prominent role.
Besides shutting down opponents’ top scoring lines, they’ve supplied 11 of Anaheim’s 47 goals in the team’s 16 playoff games. It’s been an unexpected bonanza for coach Randy Carlyle’s crew.
“We shudder to think where we would be without them,” says Carlyle.
GM Brian Burke often describes the tenacious Pahlsson as a Swede who plays as if he’s from Red Deer. He led the Ducks in hits during the regular season.
“I kind of developed into that when I came over here to the NHL,” says the 29-year-old centre. “When I played back home in Sweden, I was more of an all-around player and did everything.
“I came over here and I grew into a role. I want the team to win and I want to do my part in that.”
Playing against Pahlsson, Niedermayer and Moen can be highly frustrating, as Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley found out Monday.
“I always want to be in their face,” says Pahlsson. “You want to get some hits in to stir things up.
“You don’t want them to have a good time out there.”
But he also prepares diligently.
“You try to scout every player to get a sense of what they like to do,” he says.
He’d relish the recognition he’d get if he won the Selke.
“It would be nice to get it but there’s another trophy that would mean a lot more, I can tell you that,” he says. “All I want right now is the Stanley Cup.”
Moen has the same ambition, and he moved the Ducks within three wins of hockey’s ultimate prize when he fired in the winning Game 1 goal.
“It’s great when our line can chip in and score some big goals,” said Moen. “Our main job though is to be defensive and try to shut down their big line so that’s our focus.
“Robbie is a big physical guy. Sammy seems to get more hits than us but we all play a similar style. We’re all good down low. We all work extremely hard. We do the little things, nothing too fancy, crash and bang in the corners. When we get a chance, we shoot. We don’t try to make pretty plays. We just try to get the puck on the net.”
They’ve been throwing their considerable weight around throughout the playoffs.
“If we can go out in Game 2 and play a similar style, crash and bang, I think we’ll be OK,” said Moen.
While some players will cringe when described as checkers, Moen revels in the distinction.
“It’s a challenge every night,” he said. “You’re playing against some of the best players in the world and if you can limit their time and space it’s a job well done.”
Pahlsson, who likes to kick a soccer ball around with teammates before pre-game warmups, is pretty quiet off the ice but a fierce competitor on it, according to Moen.
“Sammy never stops battling,” he said. “Whether we’re down two or up two, he keeps battling. He never gives up.”
With so many talented offensive stars in the league, a team needs a checking line to slow them down, says Scott Niedermayer – Rob’s older brother. And the importance of a checking line grows in the playoffs.
“Everybody has their intensity cranked up and there are more battles along the boards and in front of the net,” said Anaheim’s captain. “That whole line, they’re not afraid to get in there and engage in those battles.
“You have to be willing to do that to have success.”