CHICAGO — Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson had butterflies before Sunday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings. It wasn’t because of the big-name opponent, but rather his return from a 13-game injury absence and being stoked to rejoin a team in a playoff push and looking for its third postseason appearance in 10 years.
“I’m nervous before every game, honestly, and I think if you’re not nervous, you shouldn’t be playing,” Johnson said after the Avs defeated the Red Wings 5-1 at the Pepsi Center. “Getting those first couple hits out of the way early definitely helped. It was easy from there, after I got a couple licks in to settle down and get my feet under me. I was happy the way I played for my first game back.”
The Avs didn’t canceled practice Monday but traveled to Chicago, where they play the Blackhawks on Tuesday night to begin the final 10-game, regular-season stretch.
Johnson plays in all situations and leads the Avs in average ice time. But the team collected points in 11 of the 13 games he missed, going 7-2-4. Colorado entered Monday’s games with 86 points and in the first of two Western Conference wild-card playoff spots.
“It would have been a much different scenario if I came back and we were five or six points out,” Johnson said. “The guys did an unbelievable job and made it a lot easier on me to come back and make sure I was ready. Hopefully I can come in and be a difference-maker.”
Johnson returned to the lineup without the benefit of a practice with his teammates. He trained at the team’s practice facility last week when the team had a two-game trip at Minnesota and St. Louis.
“I skated with (assistant) Brett Clark a lot while the guys were gone, so he helped me out while the guys were on the road,” Johnson said. “And I skated with a handful of the guys that aren’t playing right now. The trainers did an awesome job getting me back as quick as possible.”
Johnson admitted that he isn’t 100 percent healed.
“I don’t think anyone is playing at 100 percent at this time of year,” he said. “It’s one of those things — it felt good enough to come back. At this time of year, points are at a premium, and I wanted to get back as quick as I could. Fortunately, it was only a month.”