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Olympics Are Opportunity for Bruins’ Eriksson to Stay Healthy, Play Better

By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
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Boston Bruins forward Loui Eriksson (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Boston Bruins forward Loui Eriksson (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) – Loui Eriksson thanked his lucky skates that he was wearing a mouth guard Thursday night in St. Louis. For most of his first season with the Bruins, the club and player both probably wished he’d been skating draped in bubble wrap.

Injuries instead of goals and assists have been the major story around Eriksson, who was the centerpiece of the package the Bruins got from the Dallas Stars in the Tyler Seguin deal.

During that Bruins’ overtime loss to the Blues, Eriksson was high sticked in the face by Max Lapierre. There was no penalty on the play, but there was enough blood to satisfy a petite vampire.

Eriksson was able to return to that game, and then after taking a day off for some dental work Friday he was back in action against the Ottawa Senators. Eriksson, who missed one shift when some of his stitching opened and he again began to dribble blood, contributed two assists to the Bruins’ 7-2 victory.

View: Olympic Results

For a guy who’s spent more time out of the lineup than in it in his first season with the Bruins, it was the perfect way for Eriksson to head to Russia for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

“Yeah, I think we have a good chance,” said Eriksson about Sweden’s shot to medal in Sochi after the victory against Ottawa. “We are a really good team, lots of good players. But it is going to be tough but I think we have a really good chance.”

Sweden opens round-robin play in Pool C against Eriksson’s Bruins teammate David Krejci and the Czech Republic on Wednesday. The rest of the pool includes Latvia and Switzerland. Regardless of the competition and the result, just the chance to go and represent his homeland is quite an accomplishment for Eriksson, who has gone through a few months of hockey-player hell.

First Buffalo Sabres enforcer John Scott took a cheap shot at Eriksson Oct. 23 and sent the Bruins winger to the sidelines for five games. Just when Eriksson was getting his legs back, Brooks Orpik sent the Swede back out of the lineup with a questionable hit that caused a second concussion Dec. 7. This time it took 15 games before Eriksson got back in the Boston lineup. Once an iron man who’d missed just a handful of NHL games in his career, the 28-year-old has been a magnet for misfortune.

In 13 games since he came back from the second concussion, he’s contributed 1-5-6 totals. That’s run his season totals to 6-14-20 in 37 games, not too far off the pace the Bruins expected from him in a two-way role. Although Reilly Smith has supplanted Eriksson’s as the right win on the line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, Eriksson, Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg started to develop strong chemistry just before the Olympic break.

If he plays well and stays healthy at the Olympics, Eriksson might be able to better show the Bruins the things they acquired him to provide.

“I’ve been through a lot the last couple months here so I am looking forward to going to the Olympics and then come back here and start playing well and be healthy,” he said.

View: Olympic Medal Count

Bruins coach Claude Julien is pulling for Eriksson, not just because the forward’s contributions will better Boston’s chances of a long playoff run. Julien sympathizes with Eriksson’s plight and has been impressed with the player’s ability to keep his morale high.

“You got to feel for the guy. He’s had two concussions … yet he still has a smile on his face. He keeps plugging away and I liked his game [against Ottawa],” Julien said. “I liked the way he’s skating. He seems to be getting better all the time. No doubt this Olympic competition will do him some good. When he gets back I expect him to continue to be even better than what he’s been.”

Life could be worse for Eriksson. Had the Bruins struggled while he was in and out of the lineup, Eriksson might be hurting more now. Instead the wins have helped his healing. When he was traded from Dallas to Boston, he expected to be on a championship-caliber team. The Bruins have lived up to their expectations and are in first place in the Atlantic Division. The Stars are fighting for their playoff lives.

“I know it’s a winning team and they’ve been so good the last couple years. It’s really nice to be part of it and we’re first in the standings and everything,” he said. “It’s really nice to have that. That’s a feeling … I’ve never been in that position before. It’s really been nice.”

Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.

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