One of the only good things about Texas Stars goalie Brent Krahn's continual run of injuries is how good he's getting at coming back from them.
He may have mastered that art this season. When Krahn got a sports hernia repaired this season -- an ailment that kept him out from late November to mid-March -- his game must have gotten an overall tune-up as well. Since returning, he's been one of the AHL's best goalies.
"It's a mentality. I've been injured enough in my case to know you press sometimes when you come back, said Krahn, 27. "You are sitting in the press box. You are trying your hardest to come back. You are thinking about making that save. I knew I'd be fine coming back, but I didn't know I'd have as much success as I've had."
The numbers speak to a goalie who knew how to return in mid-season form: 6-1, 2.34 goals-against average, .926 save percentage in March and 1-1, 2.57, .929 in April. He then stopped 58 of 60 shots as the Stars took the first two games of their playoff-opening series against Rockford.
Krahn had realistic expectations of himself, and the subtle peer pressure of backstopping one of the best defensive teams in the AHL can't be underestimated as motivation, either.
"When you come back, you are not just there to get your feet wet," Krahn said. "You hit a spot where you find yourself as a goaltender, what you need to do to succeed. The guys on my team, they bust their backs. It's fun playing here. You stop one shot, the boys come and clear the rebound. When you see the guys working so hard, you don't want to let them down."
Krahn's sports hernia was the latest in a long list of problems that have limited his time, most dealing with knee problems. The No. 9 pick by the Calgary Flames in the 2000 draft hopes he's done getting force-fed the lessons of perspective that injuries sometimes bring.
"I've realized the type of goaltender I want to be," he said. "You get caught up when you play a bad game, it sits with you for awhile. Being more mature as a goaltender, I realize you're not going to make every save. You can beat yourself up over the years, which I have, or you can learn from it."
Mills gets everyone going -- Coincidence or not, when Lowell Devils forward Brad Mills stirs up the opposition his own team usually starts to get cooking as well.
Game 2 of the Lowell-Worcester opening round playoff series April 15 was the latest example of that. With the Devils down 2-0 halfway through the third, Mills clipped the skate of Sharks netminder Alex Stalock. Stalock went down, the predictable mayhem ensued and four minors were handed out.
"We needed to get something going,"' Mills said. "It definitely wasn't intentional. But in a situation like that, when we're trying to get something going, I'm not going to skate around the perimeter and avoid contact. Our bench responded. We realized we needed to make a push."'
The Devils responded with two goals nine seconds apart later to tie the game, although Worcester eventually won in overtime. Still, Mills left a calling card that couldn't be missed.
Mills, 26, chipped in with a goal and 2 assists through the first two contests, but sat out Lowell losses in Games 3 and 4 with an unspecified injury. Mills' absence and Lowell's struggles are two issues that have popped up at the same time a lot this season.
Devils coach John MacLean has cited Mills as one of the energy guys who needs to be going for Lowell to be at peak form. Mills missed more than a month with a painful rib injury from February to March and Lowell was a pedestrian 6-5-0-3 in that span.
"I definitely don't think the team was lost without me. But coming back to the lineup, I felt like I needed to bring back that spark," he said. "I took the time off to refresh myself physically and mentally. When I'm doing my job well, I help bring up the play of the guys around me. At this level, the competition is so tight, it often comes down to who wants it more. My teammates can feed off that.'"
That's been Mills' recipe for years. The former Yale grinder is in his third season in the Devils' organization and has seen his value grow even as the cast of skill players around him is deeper than ever.
"I look at it as every player brings a skill set. I look at the role I have, to never back down from a guy," he said. "I imagine not everyone can do that. I looked for ways where I could even the playing field. I can compete harder. I can finish my checks harder than the next guy because my will to win is stronger than him."
"I've realized the type of goaltender I want to be. You get caught up when you play a bad game, it sits with you for awhile. Being more mature as a goaltender, I realize you're not going to make every save. You can beat yourself up over the years, which I have, or you can learn from it." -- Brent Krahn
Before he left, though, he gave one more coming attraction that made Milwaukee and Nashville yearn for the full-run feature.
The Hobey Baker winner out of Wisconsin joined the Admirals for their first-round playoff series against Chicago. In his second game with Milwaukee on April 17, he potted 2 goals. Then, in his second shift of the next game, he incurred an injury that's believed to be relatively minor, but that might cost him however many more games Milwaukee plays this year.
"I thought the first game, the pace was a little different for him. What good players do is make an adjustment to the pace," Milwaukee coach Lane Lambert said. "The thing that strikes me about him is he's responsible at both ends of the ice. He's a real student of the game. He's a future NHL player. When exactly that will be will be up to his progress."
Around the AHL -- Hershey set a franchise record by scoring six times in the second period of Game 3 vs. Bridgeport on April 17, marking the most goals in an AHL playoff period since Philadelphia tallied six goals in the third vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on May 13, 2005. ... Albany's first-round sweep of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was its first postseason series win since 1998. ... The Rats were 0-for-20 on the power play in that series. ... Chicago has won the first two games of four consecutive playoff series after going up 2-0 on Milwaukee in the first round this postseason. ... The winners in Games 2-4 of the Admirals-Wolves series all pitched shutouts, the first time there was three straight blankings in an AHL playoff series since 1939. ... Milwaukee was on the losing end of two of those shutouts. It was the first time in the 33-year franchise history that the Admirals were shut out twice in one playoff year. ... Manchester's 2-1 win in the first game of its playoff series against Portland on April 16 snapped the Monarchs' eight-game playoff losing skid, extending back to Game 5 of the 2007 Atlantic Division Finals. ... The Monarchs' Bud Holloway scored the game-winner in each game of his team's four-game sweep over the Pirates. ... Hamilton defenseman Alex Henry's goal in an 8-2 win against Manitoba in Game 2 on April 17 was his first after going without a goal in 68 regular-season games, and it was his first playoff goal since potting the overtime winner for the Bulldogs at Hartford on April 25, 2002. ...The eight goals marked Hamilton's most in a playoff game since an 8-3 series-clinching win over Binghamton in the 2003 conference finals. ...The seven goals Hamilton allowed in a 7-2 loss to Manitoba in Game 3 on April 19 were a franchise playoff high. ... Worcester's 4-2 win against Lowell in Game 4 of their series April 20 marked the first time in 14 meetings this season between the clubs that the team which scored first did not come away with the victory. ... Defenseman Chris Chelios, the NHL's all-time leader with 266 career Stanley Cup playoff games, made his Calder Cup playoff debut in three games with Chicago last week.