Penguins' Asham making presence felt

| Saturday, April 23, 2011

The notion that Arron Asham has a glorious history of enhancing his game during the Stanley Cup playoffs isn't horribly accurate.

That Asham is finally healthy is a more likely reason for his sudden success.

Asham leads the Penguins with three goals through four games against the Lightning and can help eliminate Tampa Bay in Game 5 of the first-round series at noon today at Consol Energy Center.

His presence is hard to ignore.

"The Asham line is killing us," Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. "He (Asham) works so hard. He outbattles people. It ain't no luck."

Asham endured a tedious season because of constant injuries that made adapting to the Penguins' up-tempo style difficult for the 12-year veteran. He only played in 44 games during the regular season and didn't seem to hit his stride until early April, when a couple of spirited performances indicated he could significantly contribute in the postseason.

"It's definitely been a tough year for me," Asham said. "I was banged up the whole time. It was either my shoulder, my stomach or my head. I finally feel close to 100 percent now."

Asham is a fierce competitor and wasn't thrilled with missing so much time during the regular season. However, he admits that all the time off has been rewarding against the Lightning.

Fresh legs in hockey can make quite a difference.

"I think it is helping me," Asham said. "I missed 38 games this year, and that's a career-high for me. It wasn't fun. But I really do feel great right now. I've got good legs under me. I feel strong. You don't want to miss games, but maybe it will be better for me in the playoffs."

Asham, Mike Rupp and Craig Adams have given the Penguins a dynamic fourth line. Aside from the unexpected scoring, that line is doing a commendable job of pinning Lightning defensemen deep in their territory.

Like Boucher said, there has been nothing fluky about Asham and his line's success.

"A lot of times, it's guys like him who come up big in the playoffs," Boucher said. "You never know who it's going to be, but it's always someone who works hard."

Asham isn't a tremendously gifted skater, but his touch around the net has been evident. His goal in Game 1 saw Asham ignite a rush through the Lightning defense, and he finished off a two-on-one exchange with Rupp for a goal in Game 3.

"He's kind of a rare guy," Adams said. "He's a tough guy who's got pretty good touch. And he's got that great shot. He's definitely got a nose for the net, too. I just hope he keeps it up."

Asham's line is receiving more ice time as this series transpires, and this is not coincidental.

"It's a need to get them more of an opportunity," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

Asham is clearly making the most of his opportunity this postseason, though some of the Penguins aren't surprised. A healthy Asham, a number of players said, is a good and productive player.

"I think Arron's a great player," Penguins winger Chris Conner said. "A lot of guys expected this from him."

Even the opposition agrees. Tampa Bay winger Simon Gagne played with Asham in Philadelphia and knows how he can lift a team.

"I don't ever remember him scoring three goals in a series," Gagne said with a smile. "But he's got that great shot."

Keeping Asham healthy throughout the remainder of the playoffs might lead to even more postseason success for the player who was paramount in Philadelphia's run to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.

"It's the playoffs," he said. "It's still tough on your body, especially the way our line plays. We're banging on every shift."

And Asham is banging in goals almost every game.

"I hope I can stay healthy," he said. "I'm sure I feel better right now than the guys who played in 80 games this year."

Additional Information:

Night and day

Arron Asham's indifferent regular season has quickly been forgotten because of his outstanding performance through four postseason games against Tampa Bay. The following is a breakdown of Asham's career numbers:

Asham's career in regular season: Games: 692 Goals: 87 Goals per game: 0.12

Asham's playoff career (pre-Pittsburgh): Games: 52 Goals: 6 Goals per game: 0.11

Asham's 2010-11 regular season: Games: 44 Goals: 5 Goals per game: 0.11

Asham's 2011 postseason run: Games: 4 Goals: 3 Goals per game: 0.75

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