‘Bread Man’ com­ing through in the clutch

Windsor Star - - SPORTS - MITCH STACY

Artemi Pa­narin turned out to be ev­ery­thing the Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets were look­ing for when they traded for him last sum­mer: A dead-eye sniper and deft puck dis­trib­u­tor who can get game-break­ing goals and make ev­ery­one around him bet­ter. And, the Blue Jack­ets hope, a guy who can get them deeper into the play­offs.

So far, so good. Colum­bus heads home to Na­tion­wide Arena af­ter tak­ing a 2-0 lead over Wash­ing­ton in their first-round se­ries on Sun­day night, a come-from-be­hind 5-4 over­time win in which Pa­narin con­trib­uted a pair of key as­sists. That came three nights af­ter Pa­narin won the se­ries opener in over­time. With two as­sists in reg­u­la­tion, he drove down the left side, slipped past Cap­i­tals de­fence­man Dmitry Orlov and snapped a shot over goalie Philipp Grubauer. “There’s very few peo­ple who can make that shot,” Wash­ing­ton coach Barry Trotz said.

The Blue Jack­ets prob­a­bly wouldn’t be play­ing in the post­sea­son with­out the 26-year-old Rus­sian they call the “Bread Man.” He was a steady pres­ence and con­sis­tent scorer through a bumpy sea­son of slumps and in­juries to other key play­ers. Pa­narin led Colum­bus with 27 goals and 55 as­sists, and his 82 points were the most in a sin­gle sea­son in fran­chise his­tory. His plus/mi­nus of plus-23 and av­er­age of just over 20 min­utes on the ice per game were ca­reer highs. Pa­narin — sounds like Pan­era Bread, hence the nick­name of “Bread Man” or just “Bread” — has em­braced be­ing a fea­tured star af­ter play­ing in the large shadow of Patrick Kane in Chicago in his first two years in the league. “In Chicago, I played with Kane and got a lot of as­sists from him,” Pa­narin said. “But I al­ways wanted some­thing more, to put more of the game on my­self and be more ac­count­able for the re­sult. Here, I got that, what I wanted.” Pa­narin, who won the Calder Tro­phy as the top rookie in the NHL in 2015-16, was ac­quired from the Black­hawks last June along with for­ward Tyler Motte for for­ward Brandon Saad and goalie An­ton Fors­berg. Saad was a re­li­able player for Colum­bus for two sea­sons. “Bread is a dif­fer­ent type player be­cause he can make a spe­cial play to win a game,” Blue Jack­ets coach John Tor­torella said. “I just think for you to get through and find your way and try to be a bet­ter play­off team, you have to have some play­ers that are dy­namic. You’re not coach­ing it, they just see some­thing, they seize a mo­ment and they win you a game. Or they make a huge play to get you back in the game in an­other way.” Pa­narin makes US$6 mil­lion a year on a con­tract that runs through next sea­son. He’ll be due a siz­able salary bump if the Blue Jack­ets de­cide to keep him around af­ter that. So far, he’s been an ideal fit. “When they first traded me, of course for a cou­ple days, I wor­ried,” he said. “But then I calmed down and un­der­stood that this is all good for me. I un­der­stood that here I would progress as a player first and fore­most. What’s most im­por­tant to me isn’t money, but the whole game.”

Artemi Pa­narin

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