Last night, about an hour before the puck drop of Game 1 of the Ducks’ opening round series with Detroit, Nick Bonino emerged into the hallway outside the Anaheim locker room. He was thumbing through the game notes left for media at a table against the wall, when a security guard standing nearby quietly said, “Good to have you back, Nick.”
“Thanks,” Bonino responded. “Good to be back.”
That’s a sentiment shared by both Bonino and the rest of the Ducks, after the 25-year-old center missed nearly a month (20 games) from mid-March to mid-April with a lower body injury. After an extensive rehab, he came back to play the final four games of the regular season, and his presence was felt almost immediately at both ends of the rink.
He does a lot of things that people won't recognize," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You look at his numbers and he's minus-5 but he was as good a defensive player that we had. For a forward, he blocks shots. He'll kill penalties. Before he went out, our power play was 31 percent. Since? You know the numbers."
Coincidence or not, the Ducks scored a power play goal in each of those final four regular season games, and Bonino had three points combined. Last night, the Ducks converted twice on the man advantage, the first coming on a Bonino tip-in midway through the first period that drew a deafening roar from the sellout crowd.
“It was really fun. The first NHL goal is cool, and this is kind of a whole different animal,” Bonino said in much calmer circumstances following the Ducks’ afternoon practice. “It was fun to get the lead early, and to do it in front of a packed house like that is something I’ll always remember.”
Bonino remained his usual calm, soft-spoken self in front of the dozen or so reporters, but suddenly became much more animated when asked about the noticeably passionate celebration of that goal.
“I get a lot of guys messing with me for this, but every goal I score I celebrate like I’ve never scored before,” Bonino said with a smile. “I honestly just get so happy, and I guess the playoffs sort of amps it up a bit. I didn’t really know where to go. I just kind of skated as fast as I could somewhere, and ended up near the glass. I like that corner, apparently. I’ve done that a couple times this year.”
Indeed, watch the replay of another highlight of Bonino’s season – the goal that gave him a hat trick February 2 against the Kings – and you’ll see him rejoicing in that very same corner. Of course, last night’s goal took on a much more significant meaning, considering it gave the Ducks an important first lead in the series.
“It was awesome,” Bonino said of the atmosphere in Honda Center for Game 1. “That’s what you hope for in the playoffs, and it was amazing. I grew up watching the Red Wings playoff games, and I’m sure that building will be insane too. Everywhere you go, it’s going to be a good atmosphere. The players are excited and you’re not going to find guys without energy and not pumped up.”
Playoffs or no playoffs, Bonino is just happy to be on the ice after suffering an injury that he knew from the outset would cost him 4 to 6 weeks of a so-far successful Ducks season. “It was really frustrating,” he said. “But knowing the whole time that we would be in the playoffs made it a lot easier. If it was a situation where you’re coming back and you only had a few games before a long offseason, it would have been more frustrating. But I knew I had a goal in mind, and that was playoffs.
“I did a great rehab, and focused on getting myself ready to play,” Bonino said. “We had said anywhere from 6 to 8 or even 6 to 10 weeks. It was a pretty quick recovery and it feels good to have made it.”
Nothing could have accentuated that recovery more than last night’s goal, and Bonino was asked if he had the souvenir to commemorate it forever.
“One of my buddies asked me if you keep the first playoff [goal] puck,” he said. “I don’t know if you get it or not, but I’m sure it’s there somewhere.”
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