Canes pick up winners

Acquired in a February trade, the center displays a knack for producing winning goals. He'll try again tonight against the Bruins.

Staff writerMay 8, 2009 

— Jussi Jokinen was placed on waivers -- twice -- by the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.

Sergei Samsonov was waived last season by the Chicago Blackhawks.

Both were deemed expendable. Both found their way to the Carolina Hurricanes, who wanted them. And on Wednesday, both played a large part in helping the Canes defeat the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of the NHL's Eastern Conference playoff semifinals.

Jokinen scored the winning goal in overtime, slapping in the rebound of a spinning backhander by Samsonov for a 3-2 victory at the RBC Center and a 2-1 series lead. Samsonov also had a second-period goal, his first of the playoffs.

What is it about playing with Carolina and resurrecting careers?

"It's a great environment here," said Samsonov, who earned a new contract with the Canes last season after being claimed off waivers. "Guys who get traded or come to this team feel welcome right away. There's not a lot of pressure on you right away, so you get that little time to find your way around and your game a bit.

"Getting in a situation where you can be successful, getting an opportunity, can make a big difference."

It has for Jokinen. Unwanted by the Lightning, the versatile center was traded to the Hurricanes in early February, learned a new system, endured a personal tragedy and now is flourishing in the playoffs.

Jokinen's father, Keijo, died in Finland in early March. Only 51, his death was so traumatic that Jokinen isn't ready to discuss it.

"I don't want to talk about it," he politely but firmly said Thursday.

But there have been times during the playoffs when Jokinen has to wonder if there is some higher power at play, driving him, inspiring him. How else do you explain his run of late-game dramatics?

"It is weird," Jokinen said. "When things go bad, they go very bad. And when things go good, the puck seems to find your stick, you're in the right spot all the time and the goals will come."

In the right spot? In Game 4 of the first-round series against the New Jersey Devils, Jokinen was in front of Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur when Dennis Seidenberg unloaded a shot from the point. The puck glanced off Jokinen's left skate and into the net with two-tenths of a second left for an incredible winning goal.

With 1:20 left in Game 7 against the Devils and the Canes trailing 3-2, Jokinen was open to the right of the goal and one-timed a pass from Joni Pitkanen to tie the score. Eric Staal scored again with 31.7 seconds to play for the winner.

Then there was Wednesday night, against the Bruins. In overtime, Jokinen first kept a clearing attempt by Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara in the Boston zone. Sergei Samsonov then spun around Chara in the right circle, getting off a backhand shot that Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas warded off.

But there was Jokinen -- right spot, right time. He reached out and slapped the puck into the left side of the net.

"Jussi, in the playoffs, always seems to be there," Seidenberg said. "If you look at the goals he's scoring, they're all huge."

"I had a pretty good preseason, pretty good camp, and the first 16 games ... I was getting a lot of ice time," he said.

Then, Melrose was fired and Rick Tocchet became interim coach. Jokinen was deemed expendable -- he twice was placed on waivers by Tampa Bay.

"It's tough to say [why]," Jokinen said. "I don't think I played as good as I'd like to play. Maybe [Tocchet] didn't like the style I was playing. You need to ask him."

Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford liked Jokinen's style. On Feb. 7, the Canes sent Wade Brookbank, Josef Melichar and a draft pick to the Lightning for Jokinen, who played for the Canes that night in a road win against the Phoenix Coyotes.

In his first game against the Lightning, Jokinen had the winning goal. But after 11 games, he learned about his father. He returned to Kalajoki, Finland, and missed four games.

The coming of the playoffs has brought out the best in Jokinen, who has five goals in 10 games.

Once with the Canes, Jokinen said could feel his confidence building "step by step." As he got more comfortable with his teammates, as he got more ice time, he said his confidence level grew higher and higher.

"It's pretty high right now," he said, smiling again.

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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