- Scott Burnside, NHL
- 0 Shares
OTTAWA -- It's not quite Lazarus or even Erik Cole returning from a broken neck during last year's Stanley Cup final, but the news Saturday morning that Chris Kunitz was almost certainly going to return to the Anaheim Ducks lineup for Game 3 counts as a significant development.
The left winger has been lost to the team since the first game of the Western Conference final against Detroit, when he suffered a broken bone in his right hand. Kunitz was told at the time his season was over. But he has healed far ahead of schedule and coach Randy Carlyle inserted him into the lineup for Game 3 Saturday night. Carlyle announced the possibility of the player's
return following the team's morning skate.
Kunitz's addition gives the Ducks much better balance up front as Carlyle has tried a number of players in Kunitz's place including Todd Marchant and rookie Drew Miller, who was scratched Saturday to make room for Kunitz.
"It's been painful watching. It's probably one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life," Kunitz said Saturday after the Ducks' morning skate.
What would it mean to him to play in the Stanley Cup final when it looked like the opportunity would be denied him?
"It's a boyhood dream. I mean, everybody says that, obviously. But to be able to go out there and contribute to my team's success ... and hopefully that's something I can do and maybe coach will let me," the native of Regina, Saskatchewan said.
Carlyle said there is no medical issue.
"The last question we asked the doctor is that if this was your son, would you allow him to play? And the answer, obviously, was yes," Carlyle said.
The issue confronting Carlyle and the coaching staff is whether the seven-game layoff is too long to expect Kunitz to contribute at a crucial juncture of the final.
"This is not the first game of the season. This isn't midseason. This is the Stanley Cup final. The building will be very, very warm. It will be a raucous type of atmosphere. The body can get drained not only physically but mentally in a hurry, especially when you haven't had the opportunity to have a strong foundation of aerobic skates and hard practices and whatnot. But he's worked extremely hard off the ice," Carlyle said.
"It's a decision we'll have to make as a coaching staff if we feel that he is going to provide us the best option at that position," he added.
Still, even if there is a little rust and his hand is still a bit tender -- it still looks slightly swollen -- the advantages likely outweigh the negatives.
Kunitz scored 25 goals, had 60 points and was plus-23 during the regular season. The rugged forward had six more points in 11 playoff games before his injury and simply improves the Ducks' overall depth. They lead the final series 2-0 and can take a stranglehold on the series with a win in Game 3.
"I don't think they'd put me in if I wasn't going to be able to help out, contribute," Kunitz said. "Obviously if somebody's wounded or whatever and they're not going to be able to play as well as one of the other guys, they're going to put them in."
"It's probably going to be like [being] thrown into the fire, it's such a high level right now. I mean, every game gets more intense," he added.
"It always helps when you play with the guys you know pretty well," said Selanne who noted the trio has played together for most of the last two years.
"He's a pretty full package. It's good if he's back," Selanne said.
Asked if he was pain-free, Kunitz said, "I think so."
"I mean obviously it's going to be a little tight. But nothing I can't work through I think. If it was going to be that much pain I wouldn't probably be playing," he said.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said Saturday morning that Chris Kunitz has been cleared by doctors after undergoing surgery in mid-May for a broken right hand.