The David Perron of old is back

ST. LOUIS -- If you're looking for a possible X factor in this series that pits the St. Louis Blues against the San Jose Sharks, look no further than David Perron.

With nine goals in his last 14 regular-season games, the 23-year-old Blues winger has shaken all the cobwebs off after seeing his career halted for 13 months by a concussion.

The league's stingiest team, the Blues only ranked 21st in offense this season, but you wonder where that number would have stood had Perron played a full season at the level he's at now.

Scary thought.

"For us to be a successful team, he has to be a catalyst and he's certainly been playing well for us, no question," Blues GM Doug Armstrong told ESPN.com Tuesday.

"We're a different team when he's playing at his best."

Armstrong points to three key forwards with the kind of skill that sets them apart on this stage: captain David Backes with his power forward presence, Andy McDonald with his blazing speed that backs up opposing defenses, and of course Mr. Perron, whose soft hands and creative vision totally change the ability of the Blues to generate offense, not to mention draw penalties.

A few months ago, Perron would have scoffed at the words written above. With only four goals in his 24 games following the 13-month absence, Perron hit the All-Star break wondering just how long it was going to take to find his "A" game. That All-Star break sure paid dividends. As in 17 goals in 33 games. Welcome back, sir.

"If you would have told me I would have scored 21 goals this season after where I was at following the first 24 games, I would not have believed you," Perron told ESPN.com Tuesday after practice. "But it's good the way it's turned around for me. I think before the break, I was thinking too much about the incident and missing that much time. I was hesitant on the ice. We had 10 days off between games during the break and I was able to turn the page and get going the other way."

He's not hesitating anymore. He's the David Perron of old.

"Especially in the last 20 games, I've really been going in the corners hard and battling for pucks, taking hits and hitting guys and not worrying about it," said Perron. "You never know what can happen in this sport but I feel pretty good."

Certainly Perron had no way of knowing that in a game Nov. 4, 2010, one of the game's great players, Sharks center Joe Thornton, would leave the box as his penalty expired and drill an unaware Perron with a hit to the head that cost the San Jose captain a two-game suspension.

Perron actually didn't seem too worse for wear at the time, coming back into the game to score a goal.

Then he got on a plane and began to feel ill.

"All of sudden were talking almost 100 games later before we see him again," Armstrong said.

The Thornton-Perron incident adds an intriguing layer to what is already a compelling series between the young and surprising Blues and the veteran and playoff-battle-tested Sharks.

"It certainly is interesting that way," Perron said. "But I'm over it. I talked to Joe before and we're good now. It's obviously not a play that he's real happy about. It was somewhat of a dirty hit. I ended up missing 97 games. But I'm past it now, and I'm feeling good. I just look forward to playing some playoff hockey. It would be even better if we could beat these guys."

The two players made their peace, Thornton in a classy move reaching out to Perron via text just before his first game back Dec. 2 to wish him the best.

"That's the type of person he is," said Perron. "Before my first game, he sent me a text wishing me good luck. Then the next time we played, I saw him in the rink, we talked briefly; he's a nice person."

Really, at this point, everything is roses for Perron. A year ago at this time he had no clue when he'd ever play again. He tried to stay positive during those 13 months, but when he realized last summer that he wouldn't be ready for the start of the 2011-12 season, that was the lowest of the lows.

Interestingly, though, what gave him strength is knowing that the best player in the world was also living his nightmare. Not that he wished it on Sidney Crosby, of course -- quite the opposite.

"I was following his situation really closely," said Perron. "I was always hoping for good news for him. And while there was pressure in my situation, it wasn't even close to what he had. That helped me going through my situation just knowing the best player in the league was dealing with the same situation."

And like Sid the Kid, David Perron hopes he has turned the page on that scary chapter for good. A date for Perron and the Blues with Crosby and the Penguins in the Stanley Cup finals would make for a good story, too.