All Avs star has said so far: 'We'll see'
DENVER -- Peter Forsberg flips the puck off the boards and recovers it after avoiding a check and getting around his opponent.
He doesn't stop there.
Forsberg takes a quick glance over his right shoulder, turns left and sends a no-look pass behind him to Joe Sakic for the winning goal.
Teammates and opponents have been watching Forsberg make these amazing plays for 10 years, but this time they paid closer attention. Not only did it cut San Jose's series lead to 3-2, it might have been one of the final plays Forsberg makes in the NHL.
Forsberg's one-year contract is up after the playoffs, and he has said he would like to return to Sweden and finish his career with his hometown team, MoDo, which recently hired his father as coach.
With an NHL lockout possible and the physical pounding he has taken in recent years -- ruptured spleen, foot surgeries, a lingering groin injury this season -- Forsberg might be ready for the comforts of home.
Not that he's going to let anyone know anytime soon. Forsberg waited a few months before deciding to return last season, and he likely will take his time again.
"We'll see," is about all he has said on the subject.
If Forsberg does head home, the NHL will lose one of the best players of a generation.
With a rare combination of grace and grit, Forsberg can bounce an opponent off the puck and weave through three more to set up a scoring chance in the next motion.
It's nearly impossible to knock him off the puck in open ice, and he's at his best in the corners and along the backboards, where his strength and balance allow him to fend off defenders and end up with the puck nearly every time.
"He's so tough on the puck. You can hit him, and nothing happens," Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart said.
But Forsberg is not just a brute. He also is one of the best stickhandlers, has a shiftiness that leaves defenders falling to the ice, and has the vision to make passes that often catch opponents -- and sometimes teammates -- off-guard.
"I like watching him play when we don't have to play him," Sharks center Alyn McCauley said.
San Jose certainly found out what a difference Forsberg can make.
In the series' first three games, the Sharks grabbed, pushed and knocked him down every chance they got. Forsberg became frustrated and took ill-advised penalties as San Jose grabbed a 3-0 lead.
But the past two games, Forsberg has been the initiator, punishing the Sharks and avoiding big hits. The Avalanche won both games with a freed-up Forsberg and can even the series with a win at home Tuesday night.
"People think you can frustrate him and get under his skin," Avalanche coach Tony Granato said. "The only thing that does is get him more possessed to lead his team."
Forsberg has been doing that since he joined the league in 1994.
He's a seven-time All-Star and two-time Stanley Cup champion, and he led the NHL in scoring in the 2002 playoffs after missing the season with foot injuries.
And he might be getting better with age.
Forsberg, 30, was the NHL MVP last year after scoring a league-high 106 points and had 18 goals and 37 assists this season despite missing 43 games with a groin injury.
He has added four goals and seven assists in the playoffs, and his pass to Sakic in Game 5 helped keep alive Colorado's chance to become the third team to win a playoff series after trailing 3-0.
Not bad for a player who spent five seasons in Sweden because he didn't think he was good enough for the NHL.
"He's one of the most physical forwards out there," San Jose's Mike Rathje said. "He's a tough matchup for anybody because of the combination of everything he's got going for him. He's always around the puck, and he's tough to get it away from. He's a great player."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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