Pittsburgh Penguins winger Brandon Tanev’s answer didn’t match the high-octane approach he regularly brings to the ice when he was asked Friday what he might bring if he can return from injury for the start of the playoffs.
“When the opportunity comes, or if it happens, just get out there and play the game that I usually play – go out there confident, fast, physical, anything I can do to help the team. Play a 200-foot game. That’s what I’m looking for,” Tanev said matter-of-factly.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was only a little more forthcoming about what the playoff version of Brandon Tanev might look like, especially given fresh legs and the hunger to play given his injury time off and the heightened importance of the postseason.
“When (Tanev) gets back in our lineup, we expect him to bring what he always brings, and that’s a ton of energy, a physical edge to his game,” Sullivan said.
“I think his energy is contagious. He brings another player into our lineup that has trailblazing speed, and he utilizes that in so many ways – whether it be on the penalty kill or on the forecheck or he gets to people and then it allows him to use his physicality.”
Perhaps it is difficult to project what the Penguins will get when Tanev returns because under normal circumstances he already plays as if he’s shot out of a cannon.
Or maybe it’s just that Tanev’s value already is high.
“(Tanev) is a real important player for us,” Sullivan said. “He’s part of the fabric of this identity that we try to build here with the group. And we try to utilize him in those situations where he can play to his strengths.”
Tanev has missed the past 17 games because of an undisclosed injury, and will miss the regular-season finale Saturday against Buffalo.
He got hurt in just his second game back from a six-game injury absence, so anyone who thinks Tanev won’t be champing at the bit to be back probably hasn’t been paying attention.
He has seven goals, 16 points in 32 games and leads the team by a wide margin in hits with 139.
“We’re looking forward to getting (Tanev) back in our lineup,” Sullivan said. “We know it makes us a better team.”
What spot Tanev has when he returns remains to be seen. With Jeff Carter in the mix, Tanev could find himself on the fourth line – a high-level fourth line, but still a fourth line.
That label doesn’t bother him.
“Your role doesn’t change no matter where you fit in the lineup. … Guys understand their roles, and their roles are a big part of our team,” Tanev said.
One thing that is not necessarily ideal for the Penguins in general but could work in Tanev’s favor is that there will be a gap of perhaps a week or more between their final regular-season game Saturday and their opening playoff game.
Tanev already is practicing with full contact allowed, and the extra time could help ensure he will be ready for the playoffs.
“Hopefully be back for the playoffs. Take this extra week and work hard, get confident and get out there with the team,” he said.
“I’m starting to feel better, and it’s been nice to skate with the team. … Looking forward to the next week in practice, working with the guys and having confidence and having fun out there.”