Salvador's long road
Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur is congratulated by teammates Andy Greene (left), Bryce Salvador (centre) and Mark Fayne after defeating the Rangers in Game 4 of the NHL Eastern Conference final at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., May 21, 2012. (RAY STUBBLEBINE/Reuters)
At this time last spring, the fog was just beginning to clear for Bryce Salvador.
After missing all of the 2010-11 season with a concussion he sustained in the third pre-season game, Salvador had finally been given the green light to resume physical activity again last May - which represented a huge breakthrough at the time.
Fast forward to 2012, where the Brandon product and New Jersey Devils defenceman is merely four wins away from capturing his first Stanley Cup.
"I was just joking with (Devils captain) Zach Parise about it, at this time last year I was just starting my adventure back," Salvador, 36, said in a telephone interview from Newark, N.J. on Monday. "After not playing last year to this, it's quite a turnaround. That's for sure."
The long road to recovery was a difficult one and included several twists and turns.
"There was a process of seeing a whole bunch of different doctors, some are saying this and some are saying that," said Salvador. "We were trying to find the best course of action, but once we were able to dial in what the issue was, it was pretty easy from that point on. Starting in May, it was like any other off-season."
That's led to a playoff run like no other Salvador has experienced.
After dispatching the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, the Devils open the 2012 Stanley Cup final on Wednesday night at the Prudential Center against the Los Angeles Kings.
The deepest Salvador had gone into the playoffs previously was as a rookie in 2001, when the St. Louis Blues were defeated by the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference final. The Avalanche went on to win the Stanley Cup that year.
"It's an awesome experience, that's for sure," said Salvador, who was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the sixth round (138th overall) of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. "For me, it's my first time to the final but some of the guys in this organization have three rings. When you see how excited some of the guys on our team are to be back in the final, it really puts things in perspective, with how special it is and how rare it is."
Known throughout his career as more of a puck-moving, stay-at-home blue-liner, Salvador has been chipping in offensively with regularity in the post-season.
He managed nine assists during the regular season, but now has three goals and 11 points in 18 games, leaving him tied for fourth on the team in scoring.
Salvador was quick to deflect any praise for the offensive outburst.
"What you're seeing is not just me, a lot of guys are being rewarded in various ways for being well," said Salvador. "Obviously, I'm getting points here and there but there are a lot of guys under the radar, chipping in and getting big goals. It's because of the way the team plays as a whole."
If that Devils team can find a way to secure four more victories, Bryce Salvador will be lifting Lord Stanley's mug over his head.
And that concussion will be nothing but a long, lost memory.