NASHVILLE — Corey Perry slipped quietly into the media room just as his coach Randy Carlyle’s post-game press briefing was wrapping up. So when the microphone found its way to USA Today scribe Kevin Allen for the final coach’s question, Perry was standing to the side of the podium, hearing every word.
“A lot of talk now in the league is about the younger players taking over,” Allen began. “But in this game … there’s Corey Perry making a big play. Is there still an advantage to being an old-timer…?”
Perry laughed silently, making a face that said, “Hey, man, I’m right over here. Listening to every word.”
Perry, the greasy, stick-wielding, hated-until-he-pulls-on-a-Team-Canada-sweater right-winger, scored the overtime winner on a puck that P.K. Subban deflected into his own net, a 3-2 win that evens this series at two wins apiece. He’s got four goals and 11 points in 15 playoffs games now, after a 19-goal season, his weakest in 10 years.
We’re going six games deep in this Western Conference Final for sure now, and likely seven. So maybe the old-timer will come in handy again — if he can stay up late enough when we get back to the Pacific time zone.
“Say what you want about the guy — he’s a winner,” said Ducks defenceman Kevin Bieksa. “He scores big goals when we need ‘em, and he’s won every championship out there. He’s a guy who f—ing steps up when you need him.”
Perry is, undoubtedly, a player’s player. Hated by plenty, respected by all.
But it was around the midway point of the season when Carlyle removed him from his traditional spot on Ryan Getzlaf’s top line, a slot that had belonged to Perry’s since the two were called up from the American Hockey League together as first-year pros back in 2006.
Talk to anyone here. They’ll say it didn’t bother Perry one bit. “I sit beside him on the bus, and in two years I’ve never heard him complain about ice time or anything,” Bieksa said. “He’s a professional.”
But we’ve known a few hockey players over the years. When you’re 31 (now 32) and the league is speeding up while you’re not getting any faster, and the coach decides that the team you’ve been a first-line player on for a decade is suddenly better off with you on the third line?
Now some scribe is calling you “an old-timer?” Like you show up at the rink driving a Crown Victoria, with a wooden Sher-Wood PMP and a pair of Daoust tube skates?
You can hear all the reasons they give you and spit out all the right answers in the media. But getting old stings, and that’s what Perry has been doing this season.
“I move around all the time,” Perry said defiantly after Game 4. “It doesn’t matter where you’re playing in the lineup, you’ve still got to go out and do the things that make you successful in this league as a player.
“It doesn’t matter what line I’m on, I’m going to play the same way. I’m going to throw pucks at the net, I’m going to go to the net and play down low.”
“What we’ve said is … if we move him to a different line, he’s going to see the opposition’s third pairing of defence,” said Carlyle, “versus meeting the one or two combination of defencemen. And he still gets his power-play minutes, we think that that’s an advantage for the team.
“And personally, I don’t think that he would ever challenge us based upon what we feel is best for the team. He would be willing to sacrifice.”
The last part is undoubtedly true. And so is the first part, if you excuse Carlyle’s understandable reluctance to talk about why a player who has handled the best defencemen in hockey for over 850 NHL games suddenly requires a third-pairing matchup to be “an advantage for the team.”
So, in this post-season, Perry has found his mojo. He’s scoring big goals, wielding that sneaky dirty stick, and he rejoined Getzlaf in the Edmonton series where he provided an overtime goal and a crucial (almost) goalie-interference play.
Suddenly the Ducks can say they have won the last 13 games that Perry scored in. On Thursday in Smashville, with everything on the line in overtime of Game 4, he gets a Scorey Perry special, flinging a puck at the net and getting the break.
If ever there was a “don’t ask how, just ask how many” guy, this old London Knight is the king.
“There’s a reason why he’s been on all these teams, won all these gold medals, and had all these accolades,” said teammate Andrew Cogliano. “I’m sure it wasn’t easy (getting demoted). He doesn’t want to be anywhere but the first line, I’d bet. I think he’s a guy who’s been trying to find his game all year, been searching for some answers.
“I think they’re coming now.”