PITTSBURGH — Anyone who saw Milan Michalek’s knee whip around a goalpost in Atlanta a month ago would have thought his season was over.
So did Michalek.
“At first, it looked really, really bad, and I thought it was over for this year,” said the Senators winger. “But then I worked hard and I’m back now, so I’m really happy about it.”
Michalek, who had 10 goals and six assists in 39 playoff games with the San Jose Sharks, is also excited about getting the chance to fire pucks in the direction of a good friend over the next week or two. He and Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury have trained together in Montreal for the past “five or six” summers.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said of facing his pal in the first round. “Usually when we play against them, we exchange some words here and there. We’ll see in the playoffs.
“I’ve scored a few goals on him, I know that, but he’s a good goalie.”
Michalek started the season with a hot stick and carried it until hitting a wall in December. He suffered an upper body injury in January that kept him out for seven games and was just starting to find his groove again before hitting the post and then the injured list again for another 10 games.
He finished the season third on the team in goals, with 22, despite playing in only 66 games.
“There’s a lot of rust there when you miss as much hockey as he did,” coach Cory Clouston said of Michalek, who recovered in time to play the final two games of the regular season. “I think it was real important that he was able to get out there, get confidence in his ability physically, and obviously we need him to go to the net. His knee should be good.”
Michalek believes it is. He claims he has no apprehension about charging the net. He couldn’t be himself if he did.
“If I have a bad leg or something, I just go and if something happens, it happens,” Michalek said. “If I’m going to worry about it, most likely it’s going to happen, so I can’t worry about it. I just go play the same. I have to play the way I’m used to playing. If I don’t, I’m not good.
“I feel pretty good now,” he added. “I’m really happy I could get back for the playoffs, because that’s why we play the whole season. Today I feel good, so hopefully it’s going to be good.”
Michalek, who has spent most of the season as Jason Spezza’s left wing, will likely play with Mike Fisher and Matt Cullen when the playoffs open Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
He said he has no qualms about falling from the first line.
“It doesn’t matter for me,” he said. “We’re in the playoffs now. I can take any spot. I don’t care, as long as we win.
“Peter Regin is playing really good hockey now, so he’s going to stay there (on the top line). I’m happy wherever I play.”
Just the thought of competing in the playoffs is enough to put a smile on Michalek’s face.
“It’s a whole different league,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. You see all the fans and they’re loud. I think that’s what we play for the whole season. It’s going to be a lot of fun to play against Pittsburgh, too. They’re one of the best teams, so it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”