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P.J. Axelsson plays the unlikely hero role well

02.05.09 at 11:59 pm ET
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For the second time this season, the most unlikely of hockey heroes came through in every way for the Black and Gold by securing a game that his team most assuredly didn’t deserve to win.

The light-scoring P.J. Axelsson turned in a seemingly patented wide right move during a lengthy shootout and snapped a 3-3 deadlock by squirting a puck through Ottawa netminder Brian Elliot’s spread pads in a 4-3 shootout win for the B’s over the Senators at Scotiabank Place on Thursday night.

The game-winning bid was very similar to Axy’s game-deciding tally in a 2-1 shootout victory way back on Nov. 12 against the Chicago Blackhawks — a marathon triumph that came while the B’s were clearly still attempting to gain a clear team identity during the opening months of the season.

The 33-year-old Swedish winger is — in many ways — the most unlikely of overtime/shootout heroes. He is armed with only four goals scored on the season, but possesses buckets of winning intangibles that have endeared the longest-tenured Bruin to a Boston coaching staff high on effort, grit and details. All of that added up to a positive result for Axelsson back against Chicago’s finest three long months ago.

Is that Axelsson flight of puck fancy a carbon copy of the game-winner notched by Axelsson last night against the Senators? An eventual positive score in a shootout that saw gifted skaters like Blake Wheeler, Patrice Bergeron, Phil Kessel and Marc Savard get turned away by an untested goaltender before him? None of those skaters, with all their variety of hockey skills, was able to solve Ottawa rookie goaltender Brian Elliott. Instead it remained up to one of the most overlooked offensive players in the entire NHL — never mind on the ice last night.

Axelsson had been quietly effective since returning to the third line — a move made possible when a host of injured B’s players returned to the lineup following the All-Star break — but he was again riding shotgun with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel on the top line with Milan Lucic again on the shelf with a ding in the fender (injured foot).

He’s surprisingly approaching a career-high with 16 assists already totaled in 49 games, and Axelsson has notched seven big helpers during a series of well-chronicled bumps up to the power-play unit. The final statistical line obviously doesn’t scream out shootout hero or top-line player ready for magazine covers, but it speaks to value amongst teammates and the coaching staff as he continues to fill valuable roles when needed.

Much has been made this season that Axelsson has only produced four total goals in the regular season — with two of them empty netters — but in one fell swoop of a shootout move last night the Swede showed why he’s still a highly valued part of the high-octane, aimed-for-greatness Bruins this season. A nifty little one-on-one move snared victory from the jaws of defeat with a rare score, another example of Axelsson contributing precisely in the fashion that his team needed.

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