NHL Notebook


Detroit Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler may be short on stature — he’s generously listed as five-foot-10 — but his play has been awfully big in the Western Conference final.


Hudler playing bigger than he looks

Detroit Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler may be short on stature — he’s generously listed as five-foot-10 — but his play has been awfully big in the Western Conference final.

Hudler scored one of the biggest goals of Detroit’s series against the Dallas Stars in Game 3, helping the Wings take a 3-0 lead into Wednesday night’s Game 4.

“The thing with Huds is, he’s got a great shot,” Wings goaltender Chris Osgood told the Detroit Free Press. “He can shoot the puck hard for a smaller guy, and it’s accurate. He’s not a big guy, but he finishes checks and he’s reliable in our own zone now. He’s improved his game. He’s a more all-around player than he was previously, and that’s why he plays more.”

Hudler is fourth on the team with 12 points this post-season. He scored his third goal and the game-winner Monday, sending a backhander past Marty Turco after being sprung by a 90-foot pass from Niklas Kronwall. In 13 playoff games, Hudler has gone without a point only three times, feasting on being a power-play regular on top of his stint as a fourth-line forward.

“He’s a little guy, but he’s competitive,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s strong. He holds on to pucks. Like the goal he scored (Monday night), he’s as good as anybody on our team in finding the space.”

Osgood sees Hudler as the diminutive character from the Austin Powers movies.

“Huds,” Osgood said, “is Mini-Me.”

Sullivan’s future in serious doubt

Back problems have Steve Sullivan’s NHL career in serious jeopardy.

The Nashville Predators would love to have him return, but the 33-year-old Sullivan hasn’t been able to play since injuring his back in February 2007. He underwent two back surgeries last summer but hasn’t been able to overcome recurring spasms.

General manager David Poile recently met with Sullivan and doctors with the consensus that Sullivan would try to step things up — and include some on-ice workouts — in his rehabilitation work for the next few weeks.

A progress report will be made early next month.

“Our original thought process was that I needed to be stable on my own two feet before I got back on the ice,” Sullivan told the Tennessean. “We’ve decided to change that theory and to try what comes naturally to me — skating — and see what’s going to happen.

“The body is still spasming. But is it just a defence mechanism because it’s been stuck there for 14 or 15 months, or is it something that — by skating or doing some different things — will get back to normal? We’re just trying to figure out any which way we can to try to minimize it.”

Sullivan said some days are better than others.

“I can wake up one day and feel great and be able to do regular activities,” he said. “Some days I wake up and I can’t, or I get caught trying to do things.

“I might be trying to play soccer in the backyard with my kids and if I do it for too long, all of a sudden I start getting sore and you’ve gone too far. It’s not like I can feel it coming on. It happens pretty quickly, just like it did on the ice.”

Downie miscue downer for Flyers

Steve Downie has had a tough start to his NHL career.

As if the suspensions he’s been handed by the league weren’t enough, now the Philadelphia Flyers forward had to deal with letting his teammates down in the Eastern Conference final versus the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In two straight games, the 21-year-old has given away the puck at a terrible moment, leading to decisive goals by the Penguins. In Game 2, it was a failed clearing attempt. In Game 3, it was a dangerous, cross-ice pass in the offensive zone Evgeni Malkin picked off. Both mistakes ended up in the Flyers’ net.

Suddenly, the Penguins are up 3-0 and on he verge of sweeping the Flyers aside.

Flyers coach John Stevens isn’t concerned about what the miscues have done to Downie’s psyche, though.

“I think his feelings are not important right now, to be honest with you,” Stevens told the Philadelphia Daily News.

“We put him back in (in Game 3) because you know he’s a big-game player, but he’s got to learn, and obviously he hasn’t,” Stevens said. “So you can’t make that play. A flat pass, going in the offensive zone with Malkin on the ice, it hasn’t worked all series. I don’t know why we think it’s going to work now.”

“I saw a guy coming, I tried to feed it to him, it got picked off and they went down and scored,” Downie explained, quietly. “I was trying to make a play. We were down a goal and I was trying to make a play.”

Did he feel like he had let his coach down after he stuck with him following the Game 2 gaffe?

“Absolutely,” Downie said.

Ice chips:

If the Eastern and Western Conference finals wrap up early, NHL brass say it is flexible as far as dates for the Stanley Cup final are concerned. . . . The Edmonton Oilers have signed goaltender Bryan Pitton to a three-year NHL entry level contract. The six-foot-two, 176-pounder completed his third season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Brampton Battalion, registering a career-best 2.54 goals-against average.

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