Gustav Nyquist’s locker stall is a pretty congested area these days.
That’s because the former University of Maine two-time Hobey Baker Award finalist is the most prolific goal scorer in the NHL since Jan. 20.
The left winger has lit the goal lamp 23 times during that 28-game stretch and is doing what he can to lead the Detroit Red Wings to a Stanley Cup playoff berth for the 23rd straight year.
“This is obviously the first time I’ve received this much media attention,” said Nyquist, who led college hockey in scoring his sophomore year with 61 points and had 51 more points his third and final year at Maine. “The media is making more of this than I am.
“I try not to think about it. I just want to help the team out as much as possible. It doesn’t matter who scores as long as we win and get into the playoffs,” he added. “I’m just trying to stay focused on what we’re doing here.”
He said it is “crazy” how tight the playoff race is.
“We’ve got to find a way to win some more games,” he said.
Entering Friday night’s game with Buffalo, the Red Wings occupied one of the two wild card spots. They are one point ahead of Columbus. Each team has six games remaining. Toronto is two points behind Detroit but has just four games left. Washington and New Jersey are five and six points adrift of the Red Wings with six games remaining.
Nyquist will go into the Buffalo game as Detroit’s leader in goals with 28 in 51 games and in game-winning goals with six, including the one in Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Boston. He also leads the Red Wings in shooting percentage, as he has scored on 20.1 percent of his 139 shots.
The interesting note about Nyquist’s scoring spree is the fact that for the first time since he stepped foot on the University of Maine campus in 2008, he has registered more goals than assists in a season. He has 18 assists.
“I’ve always been more of a passer than a shooter,” acknowledged Nyquist. “But the coaches really stress shooting here because shots create offense. The goalies are so good, you probably aren’t going to score on the first shot. So you put shots on net to create rebound goals.”
Nyquist said he has worked on his shot a lot and “I’ve obviously been getting some pretty good bounces lately.”
And he said none of his success would be possible without his linemates. He has had several different linemates.
“I’ve played with some great players and they’ve set me up really well,” said Nyquist, who has also benefitted from power-play time.
Nyquist began the season in the American Hockey League with Grand Rapids because the Red Wings had to get salary cap-compliant and he was the only forward on the roster who was exempt from waivers.
He had 21 points (7 goals, 14 assists) in 15 games with Grand Rapids before being called up.
Then he replaced injured teammate Johan Franzen on the Swedish Olympic team and earned a silver medal in Sochi, Russia.
His playing time varied from game to game in Sochi.
“That was a great honor,” said Nyquist. “That’s not the way I wanted to make it, having a teammate go down. It was a great experience for me to play against the top players in the world. And it was the first time I’d played for the national team since the Junior Nationals.”
He also said being on a team with Sweden’s best players was extremely beneficial.
“That was a huge confidence boost for Gus,” said Red Wings goalie and former UMaine great Jimmy Howard, who was the backup for the U.S. Olympic team. “At his age , it must have been a huge thrill.”
Howard said his teammate has been “on fire.”
“He has been throwing everything at the net and they’ve been going in. He is also very responsible in the defensive zone,” Howard added.
“He’s a great player. He’s the real deal,” said Tampa Bay goalie and former Black Bear Ben Bishop, who surrendered a highlight-reel game-winning goal to Nyquist from a difficult angle recently that left Howard “sitting there with my mouth open.”
His game-winner against Boston came on a rush down the left side with Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara trying to angle him off during a Bruins line change.
“There was a little opening underneath the glove [of Tuukka Rask],” said Nyquist.
That was his 12th goal in a 10-game stretch and that is the most by any player in a 10-game stretch this season.
Nyquist has been picking up the slack left by injuries to several key Red Wings forwards including Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Stephen Weiss.
Nyquist was looking forward to Friday night’s game against Buffalo because he would be going up against his friend and former University of Maine linemate Brian Flynn.
“It’s going to be fun. Brian texted me and told me he was going to block my shots,” chuckled Nyquist. “He’s a really good player at both ends of the ice.”