- The Washington Times - Monday, May 20, 2002

DETROIT It has been five days since indispensable Colorado Avalanche wing-center Peter Forsberg was slashed across the left wrist by San Jose's Teemu Selanne. Forsberg made it to the bench, doubled over in pain, but later returned to deliver verbal warnings to every Shark he could find. Thankfully for the Sharks, it was late in the game.
The slash is significant because Forsberg, the leading scorer in the Stanley Cup playoffs with 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists), may have a broken wrist. Then again it may be sprained or bruised, or maybe Selanne missed the bone altogether and caught the Swede on the padding. But Forsberg is not the type of guy who runs around pretending he is hurt. In any case, at this time of year there is never a straight answer when you ask a player whether he is injured.
All this is important because Forsberg has been outstanding during the playoffs, but on Saturday, in the Avalanche's 5-3 loss to Detroit in the Western Conference finals (Game 2 is tonight), the left wing was held pointless for only the third time in 15 games. He didn't disgrace himself, but he wasn't the dominant offensive player people have come to expect.
That didn't keep him from playing Game 1 with, um, an edge. Forsberg, one of the nastiest of the few nasty Swedes in the league, nearly disemboweled Detroit's Chris Chelios 16 minutes into the second period. Chelios, a defenseman who was born with the temperament of Woody Hayes, appeared ready to retaliate, but the Wings scored on the delayed penalty.
And in the final minute of the game, Forsberg wiped out Detroit enforcer Darren McCarthy, who decided Saturday was an opportune time to record his first career hat trick, which helped the Red Wings win the game. Chelios did go after Forsberg and got a penalty but has not forgotten the hit.
Forsberg's aggressive play is a sign he is back in peak form. Many would consider Forsberg lucky to be skating, nevermind causing mayhem and leading the playoffs in scoring. Last May 10, hours after leading Colorado to a seven-game decision over Los Angeles in the Western Conference semifinals, Forsberg had his spleen removed and was done for the playoffs. It was written countless times that the Avalanche could not win the Stanley Cup without Forsberg, but they did, beating New Jersey in seven games in the finals.
As training camp approached last fall, Colorado general manager Pierre LaCroix went to Sweden to find out how his star was coming along. There, Forsberg said he was tired of hockey and was stepping aside for a while. Retirement was a possibility but not a certainty, and Forsberg emphasized that his actions were not a ploy for more money.
"It's been pretty tough physically for him," LaCroix said, pointing out Forsberg's concussions and other surgeries. "When you're in a situation like he was, it's going to get you depressed. You're going to feel like you need a break from the business you're in. That's what he made me understand. He said, 'Let me heal.'"
And that wasn't the end of it. Long troubled by his feet, Forsberg used the time off to have a total of four surgeries to try to correct the problems. He finally made it back to Denver after New Year's in a walking cast and started rehabbing. The vacation was over. It was thought he would be ready to play as soon as mid-May, but he was on the ice for Colorado's first playoff game April 18.
"I've had a few injuries throughout my career, but it's the way hockey is played nowadays," Forsberg said. "You have to play physical every game, every shift. You can't take a shift off; you go out and play as hard as you can. If injury happens, it happens. You can't go out and think about it. You have to go out and do your best."
Without him, the Avalanche struggled at times during the season but finally finished second in the Western Conference, 17 points behind regular-season champ Detroit. Colorado is a different team with the physical Swede on the ice.
"His numbers are unbelievable," Colorado coach Bob Hartley said, "but just his comeback, it's even more than unbelievable. What this guy has been able to do after basically sitting out the full year; it's simply amazing.
"Before he played his first game, we were saying how hard he had worked in the gym, three or four hours a day. We were expecting a big comeback, but the big question was at that time: How good would he be? I think he has proven he is a world-class player. He's unbelievable, and the plays he has made, simply great."
Hartley is understandably prejudiced. Detroit's Scotty Bowman is not.
"I knew he was going to come back; I didn't know when," Bowman said. "Now [hes] not going to wear down as much as some players. The first two rounds would have been a plus for him rather than a minus, playing so many games."
Avalanche captain Joe Sakic isn't surprised by his teammate's comeback.
"Yeah, knowing him and how hard he worked to get back, yeah, I expected him to be at this level," Sakic said. "I thought he might be a little rusty at times, but after a few games he's right back. It's been a huge lift for us. He had that year off; we didn't know if he was coming back or not. He did, he's well-rested and for us, it's awesome."


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