Fast-forward to Wednesday night and another triumphant performance in the Stanley Cup playoffs by the wing from Finland. Leino's play was so impressive, veteran teammate Ian Laperriere approached him in the postgame locker room celebration, put his left arm around him and said, "Hey Ville, I think Detroit should have traded (Pavel) Datsyuk instead of you."
Even with Laperriere caught up in the moment of a Game 3 victory for the Flyers, it was still well-earned praise, high and sincere.
"That was great of him to say," said Leino, "I didn't know how to react. Obviously, Pavel is an amazing player. I know Lappy was just being nice, but it's always good to be mentioned with great players."
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No one saw this coming for Leino, except -- possibly -- Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren and his scouting staff. No one envisioned Leino crashing the net and accepting a lucky bounce off a Blackhawks defenseman to score a game-tying goal in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, as he did in the Flyers' 4-3 overtime victory over the Blackhawks. No one envisioned the Flyers leaning on Leino so much that head coach Peter Laviolette would double-shift him in the third period of a must-win game in the Cup Final. No one could imagine Leino becoming one of the Flyers' most valuable players.
Two years ago, the Red Wings out-bid a handful of teams for the services of the 6-foot-0 left wing after a standout season with Jokerit of the Finnish League. His signing did not create much buzz, like the Dallas Stars' acquisition of fellow European free agent Fabian Brunnstrom. Leino played well for the Red Wings' AHL team in Grand Rapids and had nine points in 13 games with the Red Wings in 2008-09.
This season, however, was different. He was unable to find chemistry with linemates, often played on the fourth line and eventually he fell out of favor with Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. When Detroit general manager Ken Holland needed to clear salary space space to bring injured forward Johan Franzen back to the lineup, he offered Leino and his $800,000 salary around the league. The best Holland was able to bring back was defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen (immediately waived by Detroit) and a fifth round draft pick.
Consider it one of the NHL steals of the year by Holmgren. After waiting his turn to get into the Flyers' lineup during the team's first round victory over New Jersey, Leino has six goals and nine assists for 15 points in 16 playoff games.
"When Ville wasn't in the lineup, it wasn't because of anything he was doing," said Laviolette. "We just had other players ahead of him in our lineup. He knew that and continued to work. He's a terrific person. He's the same person who came to the rink today with the same attitude he did when he was scratched 10 games in a row. Ville deserves credit because, when he got the opportunity, he made the most of it. He's brought so much to the table offensively and makes everyone around him better."
"I could see when he got here that Ville had a lot of talent," said linemate Daniel Briere, who is playing some of the best hockey of his career. "Sometimes guys figure it out, sometimes they don't. Right now, he's in the zone. Everything seems to be working for him, like that bounce on his goal (Wednesday) night. But you have to work for those bounces, and Ville does."