Sullivan not taking return for granted

April, 16, 2010

CHICAGO -- Steve Sullivan was pumped after today's morning skate. He hasn't played in a playoff game in four years.

"It's been a while," the Nashville Predators forward said. "And I don't think I've gone into the playoffs this healthy probably since Toronto back in 1999. I'm anxious. It's been a long time since a playoff game, but also just knowing I'll be able to give it everything I have."

His story is well documented. The 35-year-old's career was nearly ended by back problems that kept him out of the game for two years. He won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy last season for his amazing comeback.

Now back for a taste of playoff hockey (the Preds missed the playoffs last season), Sullivan is taking the time to soak it all in. He takes nothing for granted anymore.

"It's the injuries, it's the age; you start to see every year certain players that aren't playing anymore that came into the league with you or you talk to old teammates that aren't playing anymore," he said. "So yes, you cherish it. It's gone by so fast, it really has. That's the one message you can pass on to the guys -- you don't know how many chances you're going to get. A lot of players don't make the playoffs for five-six years. We've got a special group in here, and we want to make the best of it."

Keeping Hamhuis

The Preds made a tough decision at the trade deadline by keeping Dan Hamhuis. He's an unrestricted free agent July 1, and the top-four blueliner might walk, so that's a tough pill to swallow. But GM David Poile also wanted to give his team the best shot to win this season.

"That was huge for us," Preds coach Barry Trotz said. "We had a real difficult March where we had not only I think the most games of any team, but also good competition in the West with everyone fighting for a playoff spot. Having Dan not be moved at the trade deadline really solidified our blue line and kept us competitive right to the end. That was a real good decision by management."

The underdog Preds

Nashville hasn't been picked by many people to beat the Blackhawks despite its 100-point season. Just par for the course for a Preds team that rarely gets any national buzz.

"We are what we are," Trotz said. "We've got some good players that maybe don't get the recognition they probably should. We've had a lot of question marks on our ownership in the past and all those things. We just do what we do. If you do things well and do them long enough, people will notice. Our team and our organization is not built on flash and dash. We try to keep it close to the vest and do our thing. We have our own identify. That's what makes us successful, is that we do have an identity."

Latest injury updates

The Predators received good news on the injury front Friday when Trotz announced defenseman Denis Grebeshkov was coming off the injury list.

"He's been cleared to play. He's available to play, yes," Trotz said, while refusing to say whether he'd insert him into the lineup for Game 1.

Grebeshkov, a key trade-deadline acquisition from Edmonton, was injured (upper body) on March 7, just his fourth game with his new team, and hasn't played since. Meanwhile, the Preds' leading scorer, winger Patric Hornqvist, didn't skate Friday morning. He missed the regular-season finale with a lower body injury. But Trotz said Hornqvist was OK.

On the Hawks' side, top-four defenseman Brian Campbell (broken clavicle) skated for the third straight day. He was supposed to be out eight weeks, and it's been just more than four weeks.

"Soupy has skated all week; we'll continue to monitor him, see how he does," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We said earlier in the series that he's likely out, and we'll see how it progresses."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


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