NEWARK, N.J. – No one wants the Stanley Cup final to go longer than Henrik Tallinder.
The veteran Devils defenceman had to wait until Game 4 to get into the lineup, his first action since being sidelined by a blood clot that surfaced after a mid-January road trip.
Tallinder has been ready to go for weeks, but New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer resisted making changes. DeBoer told Tallinder at practice the day before Game 4 that defence was not the problem and that it wasn’t fair to put him in after four months and 58 games.
Then DeBoer changed his mind, calling Tallinder later that night. The coach said, upon review, the 33-year-old Swede had convinced him to make the move.
“He was just adamant that he was ready, really thought he could help,” DeBoer recalled. “When a player puts his neck on the line like that, I get a real comfort level knowing he was a veteran guy and knowing how good he was at the top of his game for us as a top-two guy, that he could help us.
“Little bit of a risk. But he basically talked me into that. Thought he was outstanding. Big boost for us.”
Replacing Peter Harrold, Tallinder played 19 minutes 21 seconds in the Devils’ 3-1 win in Los Angeles—his first game since Jan. 17.
“It was fun. I had a good time out there,” he said with a smile.
“I thought I played a decent game,” he added.
He first noticed the problem with the leg after a busy week that saw the Devils play in Pittsburgh, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg.
At first, the six-foot-four 210-pounder thought he was just feeling the effects of a blow during a game. But it got worse rather than better.
He had it checked out and they quickly found the clot, which resulted from a condition known as thrombophlebitis.
Pro athletes are accustomed to injuries, but this was different.
“You know what a blood clot is but you don’t realize until you get one how serious it is,” he said.
Tallinder’s thrombophlebitis started as an inflammation in the vein.
“How that occurs, nobody knows,” he said. “It could have been a blow or something, a slapshot, slashing, you name it.”
The first doctor said he could be back in three months. The next said six.
The defenceman just had to wait and see the drugs he was talking could help his body dissolve the clot. If not, surgery would be required.
Tallinder admits it was difficult, especially given the fuzzy timeline of his return. He took the prescribed medicine for three months. Then he had a month without it.
“I was in and out,” he said. “Oh, I’m in this season, no I’m out. Oh, I’m in the season, I’m out.”
Being out was even harder for a player who appeared in 217 straight games from February 2009 to December 2011, including 106 outings with Buffalo and 111 matches with New Jersey.
Tallinder was eventually cleared to play the day before the final started.
“I felt better and better and better,” he said.
Not as good as when he got back into the lineup, especially with the championship on the line.
“Excitement, nervous, happy. There were so many emotions out there,” he said. “But I just enjoyed it, it was just so much fun.
“It’s another level, even from the Conference finals to go to the finals.”