SAN JOSE, Calif. – Raffi Torres is making quite a positive impact in his return to the playoffs.
A year after being kicked out of the post-season for his vicious hit against Chicago’s Marian Hossa, Torres has played a major role in helping the San Jose Sharks take a 2-0 series lead after winning two straight games in Vancouver.
Torres helped set the tone for the series with his physical play in Game 1 when he delivered six hits against his former team. He then gave the Sharks control in the series with his overtime game-winner in Game 2.
The series shifts to San Jose for Game 3 Sunday where a raucous crowd is expected at HP Pavilion, where the Sharks lost just twice in regulation all season.
“What happened last year is totally behind me,” Torres said Saturday. “It’s not what I think about anymore. But it’s nice to be contributing again in the playoffs. It’s always fun to play. This is the best time of the season for anybody. It’s fun to play in the playoffs.”
It’s a very different post-season for Torres than the one he had a year ago in Phoenix when he launched himself into Hossa in Game 3 of the opening round and sent him sprawling to the ice. Hossa had to be taken off on a stretcher and missed the remainder of the series.
Torres was suspended 25 games for the hit, a penalty that was later reduced to 21 games on appeal. But he sat out the final 13 games of Phoenix’s run to the Western Conference finals and the first eight games of this year for the Coyotes.
He was dealt to San Jose last month and has been a more under-control player this year with his penalty minutes per game dropping by nearly 60 per cent.
But he still brings a needed physical element to San Jose’s lineup that was evident with his big early hits on Ryan Kesler and the Sedin twins in Game 1.
“He comes as advertised,” teammate Joe Pavelski said. “He plays hard. He brings a lot of energy. He’s a fast player. He doesn’t really mess around with it too much. He plays to his strengths. You do that on a nightly basis, you come to know what to expect from him. He adds that much more experience and grit to our team.”
The Sharks have been on the receiving end of Torres’ physical play in past playoffs, most notably when his blindside hit to the head during the 2006 playoffs knocked out Milan Michalek and was considered the turning point of the second-round series won by Edmonton.
Torres also delivered a hard, clean hit that separated Joe Thornton’s shoulder during the 2011 Western Conference finals when he was in Vancouver.
“It’s nice seeing him hit a different colour than your own,” teammate Patrick Marleau said.
The Canucks have much bigger concerns than dealing with Torres. They have lost eight of nine playoff games since taking a 3-2 lead over Boston in the Stanley Cup finals two years ago.
They were knocked out as the top seed in five games in the opening round by eventual champion Los Angeles last season and have fallen into a deep hole against the Sharks after allowing the tying goal to Marleau in the final minute of regulation before losing on Torres’ game-winner.
“I think we all should still be (upset) at that game,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “We were a couple of seconds away from a win. We had an empty net. We had two opportunities to get the puck out. We have to make those plays and we didn’t. It’s a tough feeling. We’re going to take the day here and analyze and adjust a few things. We’re going to be ready for tomorrow.”
One change could come in goal where former starter Roberto Luongo has gotten the nod in the first two games in place of injured Cory Schneider.
Schneider did not dress the first two games but made the trip with his teammates and could be ready to play Sunday. Luongo has allowed six goals on 61 shots and has made some spectacular saves to keep the Canucks in the game early in Vancouver.
“It might be a great thing for us,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “I think Luongo’s been tremendous. I really do. I think he’s made some great saves in the series. If they want to take that quality of goaltender out of the lineup and go to the other one, we’ll take our chances with that as well.”
The bigger problem for Vancouver has come on the offensive end where the Canucks have just three goals against Antti Niemi. Kevin Bieksa got credit for a goal after a wild scramble in Game 1 and Kesler scored twice on Friday night.
The Sedin twins have been held to one assist apiece and no one else has dented the scoresheet in the first two games.
“You have to hit the back of the net,” Henrik Sedin said. “That’s the only answer I can give you. You can create chances, you can do whatever you want. If you don’t score, you’re not going to win.”
NOTES: Sharks F Scott Gomez skated after missing the first two games with an injury and is hopeful he can return to the lineup in Game 3. … Sharks D Jason Demers (lower body) is out for Sunday and F Marty Havlat is questionable after taking a stick to the groin from Kesler in Game 1.