Clutch is spelled J-O-K-I-N-E-N
Posted May 7, 2009
Let’s go back a few months.
Jussi Jokinen is playing in Tampa Bay on a balky knee, trying to help his withering confidence while shuffling between seeing diminished time on the ice and sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch.
Released twice in a matter of two months by the same franchise, the shootout specialist was all talent and no self-belief, and in the NHL you’re nothing without both.
Fast forward to February of this year – it was then that the Finnish winger was traded to the Hurricanes for Josef Melichar, Wade Brookbank, and a fourth round pick.
“Jussi and I were linemates a lot in Tampa this year,” said Boston winger Mark Recchi after Wednesday night's Game 3 in the playoff series between the Hurricanes and Bruins. “We played very well together and he’s a great hockey player. [The Lightning] gave him away. Carolina stole him.”
In Raleigh, Jokinen found fellow countrymen Joni Pitkanen and Tuomo Ruutu to take him under their wings, and a newly rejuvenated team that spent a lot more time winning than losing. Suddenly, the confidence began to grow, the ice time began to increase, and the healthy scratches were a thing of the past.
In 46 games with the Lightning, Jokinen recorded six goals and 10 assists. Counting the playoffs, the former fourth-winger has scored as many goals and dished out two more helpers in 11 fewer contests.
"Three months ago, I'd been on waivers twice and nobody was willing to pick me up," Jokinen said after his team's Game 3 win. "I have to thank Jim Rutherford. He made the trade and I found my confidence here, and it's been a great ride so far."
Now skip ahead again to the present – the 2009 postseason or perhaps more appropriately, Jokinen’s personal coming-out party.
After his overtime game-winner Wednesday night, the 5-foot-11 left winger’s five playoff goals rank him tied for fourth in the league.
His knack for coming through when his team has needed him most, however, has been second to none, and the clutch contributions haven't gone unnoticed by the Canes' coaching staff.
"Jokinen needed to get off the fourth line. He played too well," head coach Paul Maurice admitted after the win in Game 3 when asked about why Jokinen was paired with Sergei Samsonov and Ruutu. "
"I believe in myself. I can be a difference maker," Jokinen said. "When you have your confidence high, you feel you can do some good things on the ice."
First there was the game-winning tally in Game 4 against New Jersey, a deflection off a Dennis Seidenberg shot with 0.2 seconds left in regulation that squirted past Martin Broduer and helped his team avoid a 3-1 series deficit.
Then there was Game 7 of the same series, when the Canes were 80 ticks away from making tee times before Jokinen one-timed a Pitkanen pass through Brodeur’s legs, tying the contest at three and opening the door for Eric Staal’s heroics just 48 seconds later.
Lastly, there was overtime of Game 3 Wednesday night, where minutes earlier the Canes had just let Boston tie the contest 2-2, and suddenly the home-ice advantage they had just worked so hard for the game before was at risk of being lost right back to the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.
After the Bruins began the extra period with consecutive solid shifts that saw Cam Ward face several potential game-ending chances, it was Jokinen that spun around and slapped in a rebound shot off a Sergei Samsonov backhander that lit the lamp and sent the Caniacs home happy.
Carolina has won six games this postseason, three of which may very well have gone the other way had number 36 not been on the ice or in uniform.
"That guy is money for us right now," Ward said with a smile. "He's been a huge contributor to our hockey team...we're sure happy he's on our side."