SUN Hockey Pool

Now that's ugly!

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

This is when the investment in Michael Peca is supposed to pay off ... finally.

Forget about his regular season, which shouldn't be a problem with a regular season that is forgettable. The playoffs, according to the popularly held theory, is his time to shine.

"I'm excited about it," said the highest-paid nine-goal man in hockey. "I've always maintained that as disappointed as I was about the regular season, with my numbers and stuff, all I'm concerned about is winning a championship, nothing more, nothing less.

"Being in a situation now where we have that opportunity, I feel I've got my game to the point over the last month that I'm ready to have a really successful run, personally, and as a team."

A few weeks' worth of vintage Peca, the kind of gritty, tough, clutch, shut-down hockey he used to play back when they called him Mike, could make amends for what has pretty much been a lost year in Edmonton.

For whatever reason, whether he started off on the wrong foot when miscast as an offensive centre, or was dinged up, or struggled in adjusting to a new team in a new conference, he never got it going here.

Throw in a fan base that simply couldn't get their heads around his $4 million ticket, and it's been a frosty nine months since that feel-good pep rally in the Oilers parking lot last summer.

If they beat Detroit, and he's a big reason why, all is forgiven. Not that he's necessarily asking to be forgiven.

"I'm not going to apologize, things happen the way they happen," he said, when asked about making amends.

GUYS IN THE ROOM

"For me it's about the guys in the room, and the organization, and wanting to succeed. I've been fortunate to be a part of the playoffs all but one year in my career. I love the opportunity, and looking at the faces of all the guys in here, they're pretty excited about it, too."

Besides, he said, he'd rather be a guy who had a crummy regular season and a great playoffs than a guy who lit it up for 82 games and disappeared when it really counted.

"It's not about stats and bonuses and the prestige of individual accomplishment.

"You're there to win hockey games, and nothing else. It's about team success because that's the only way you move on.

"The career years that guys had ... it's off the board now. We're not paid to score 30 goals or 100 points. At the end of the day we're paid to get ourselves in position to be a championship team.

"We have.

"Now the real work begins."

It's a brand new world, the playoffs, and knowing your way around, like Peca does, counts for a lot.

He has one of the best big-game resumes in the dressing room, including a trip to the Cup final with Buffalo, an Olympic gold medal with Canada and a world championship in 2001.

LOTS OF EXPERIENCE

And he's already got the good playoff face going, with an ugly, swollen cut dangerously close to his left eye.

"He's been in a lot of playoff series," said Chris Pronger.

"He has the experience in faceoffs, killing penalties, checking top lines, playing with a physical edge - he can add an element in the playoffs that we're going to need."

Is this his time of year?

"I hope it's everybody's time of the year," said Peca, adding he's felt a lot better down the stretch, when the games had the look and feel of playoff hockey.

"For whatever reason things just sort of came around. My legs felt better throughout the last part of the season.

"That obviously helps you mentally, knowing that you're going to feel good physically. It's just an exciting time of year; we're looking forward to it."

And the ugly eye?

"It felt like he was stitching my eyelid shut," he said of the John-Michael Liles high stick that clipped him in the first period against Colorado.

"The ref told me 'I thought it was (Georges) Laraque's stick.' I said, 'There's one black guy out here, and he wasn't on the ice. Obviously you didn't see the play.' "

One thing for sure, his quotes are definitely in post-season form.


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