Joakim Nordstrom spent three years trying to get the Carolina Hurricanes into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Now that the Canes are in, Nordstrom will do anything he can to push them out.
When the Canes showed no interest in re-signing the Swedish forward after the 2017-18 season, Nordstrom signed with the Boston Bruins. He now finds himself facing several old friends and teammates in the Eastern Conference finals, which began Thursday at TD Garden, and in a similar role as a fourth-line energy player for the Bruins.
No hard feelings, Nordstrom said Thursday morning after the Bruins’ optional skate. He watched with interest from afar this season as the Canes, after a nine-year playoff absence, worked their way into playoff position and then topped the Washington Capitals and then New York Islanders in the first two rounds to reach the conference finals.
“Being around the organization and that team for three years, I know there’s a lot of good players on that team and in the organization, and a couple of guys coming up lately who have done a really good job,” Nordstrom said. “I’m not really that surprised. Obviously the way they’ve been playing since January and February, I’m really impressed with the way they’ve played and the confidence they’ve played with.”
The Canes once had a large Swedish contingent and it was a tight group: Nordstrom, Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask, Lucas Wallmark, Eddie Lack, Klas Dahlbeck.
All but Wallmark are gone, and the center has turned 2018-19 into something of a breakout season, given more minutes and responsibility with Jordan Staal sidelined more than 30 games with a concussion.
“When he was up and played last year, I think he showcased himself and did a good job to get the opportunity this year,” Nordstrom said of Wallmark. “From what I’ve seen he’s taken some steps.”
Nordstrom, 27, was caught up in the change and makeover of the Canes after last season. Traded to Carolina by the Chicago Blackhawks along with forward Kris Versteeg in September 2015, he was a capable penalty-killer and was used on different lines, playing 228 games in his three seasons with the Canes.
In the 2015-16 season, Nordstrom joined Staal and forward Andrej Nestrasil on a formidable checking line, Nordstrom providing a lot of the speed. It wasn’t a big scoring line but held on to the puck in the offensive zone and could be a heavy load in the D zone, hounding the puck.
Nordstrom played 82 games in 2016-17 and then 75 last season. But the Canes let him go, becoming an unrestricted free agent.
“I don’t think we had any talks at all,” Nordstrom said. “I think the way the season was for me last year and a little bit the year before, I was kind of ready to move on myself, as well.”
Nordstrom signed a two-year, $2 million contract with the Bruins on the first day of free agency. It has been quite lifestyle change, living in Boston, playing for an Original Six team with all its tradition.
“The hype around the team has been a lot bigger,” Nordstrom said. “With the other pro sports teams we have here, the city breeds interest for pro sports. All the games are sold out. It’s been fun being a part of it.”
Nordstrom was a big part of finishing off the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Bruins’ first-round series. In Game 7, Nordstrom gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead and later added an assist on a Sean Kuraly score in a 5-1 victory.
The Bruins then took care of the Columbus Blue Jackets in six games. But the Canes offer a different kind of challenge, said Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, who the Canes once had in their prospect development camp as a free-agent college invitee and later tried to sign.
“They’re a good combination of speed and size and grit,” Krug said. “They work extremely hard. They have a lot of characteristics of the coach (Rod Brind’Amour) when he played the game. It will be a tough series for us and we’re ready for a long battle. “
Nordstrom was a part of the Blackhawks’ 2015 Stanley Cup run. He’d like to be a part of another one -- at the Canes’ expense.
“It’s been a fun year,” he said.