SUN Hockey Pool

Getting second chances

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

DETROIT -- An 18 year old kid, a 22-year-old Calgary-born Swede who's spent most of his pro career trying to escape the minors and a guy who's six games back from a brutal, career-threatening bout of colitis.

It sounds more like an ABC After School Special than a dynamic second line in the NHL, but the eclectic trio of Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson and Fernando Pisani is striking some rather impressive chemistry.

They combined on Pisani's game-tying goal in the third period Tuesday, on Gagner's beautiful one-timer in the game before that and on Nilsson's beautiful one-timer in the game before that.

"They're starting to produce every night," said head coach Craig MacTavish, who's been searching for supplemental scoring in the absence of Jarret Stoll and Raffi Torres. "We're trying to develop a recipe that works. You add a bunch of offence and a little spattering of predictability and dependability."

And, voila. Three goals in three games. Blending Pisani's versatility with the youngsters' raw skill has been a perfect fit. He can pick up some slack defensively, do a lot of the heavy lifting and has the hands and wheels to fit in offensively.

"Fernando can think for everybody out there, and he can add to the offensive part of it," said MacTavish. "Guys like that you can put on any line and they're going to make that line better."

No arguments from the kids.

"The line really seems to fit well," said Gagner. "Me and Nilsson play the same style of game and Fernie does everything so well. He make it really easy out there. He does all the right things."

"Fernando does the things that we don't do so well," adds Nilsson, who's riding a seven-game point scoring streak.

"He's great along the boards and when he gets the puck he can deliver it to us right away. And he's always in the right spots at the right times. Plus, he has a great shot.

"He brings a lot."

So do they. Gagner and Nilsson can wheel and deal with the best of them, as Pisani is discovering first hand.

"It's easy to play with them, they're very creative players and they make good plays down low," said the 30-year-old winger. "I think we all complement each other. I just try to get in on the forecheck and create that turnover so we get some offensive chances down low."

From the hospital bed to the second line, it's been a pretty long, difficult journey for the popular veteran. He had some obvious concerns when he returned to the lineup, after gaining back the 30 pounds and six pints of blood he lost during complications from the illness, but they're waning with every game.

"The first game back I was a little bit nervous because I wasn't sure, wind wise, how I was going to be," he said. "I hadn't played since April. But as every game goes by I feel more confident and more relaxed and able to make plays."

"He's played really good, right from the outset," said MacTavish.

"He never makes a mistake out there. You watch a lot of video before you see him make two mistakes.

"He's so reliable with the puck. In crucial situations, along the boards, you know he's getting the thing out. And when he gets a chance, he puts it in the back of the net, like he did last game."

He's like a coach out there for his linemates, leading by example, offering tidbits of advice on the bench after every shift. If they're wise, the kids will soak up as much as they can.

"I remember watching him in the Stanley Cup final, and how influential he was in that," said Gagner.

"A guy like that can never be underestimated. He does everything so well for this team. He makes us so much better when he's out there.

"He's been through a lot in this league and he knows what it takes to play at this level.

"Me and Robert still have a lot of things we have to figure out if we want to be consistent at this level and Fernando can help us out with that."


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