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Column: Max Pacioretty’s return as unknown as his injury

Updated May 21, 2021 - 5:20 pm

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The quote is mostly attributed to Vin Scully, who spent a Hall of Fame broadcasting career cementing himself as baseball’s greatest storyteller.

It was during a Dodgers-Cubs game in 1991 when Scully offered this update: “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day to day.”

Long pause.

“Aren’t we all?”

Well, we know Max Pacioretty is.

Mysterious injury

This is a tale about an injured NHL player, which means you have a better chance discovering Atlantis than determining what has kept Pacioretty out of the Golden Knights’ lineup since he last played May 1.

It is customary for reporters to ask a coach daily about an injured player’s status. In the NHL, it is just as routine for him to answer by not answering.

Pete DeBoer has played the role exceptionally well when it comes to the status of his leading goal scorer, continuing to describe Pacioretty as day to day and a game-time decision.

Those sure are a lot of games to miss — nine straight — without deciding something.

I would assume the trend continues Saturday night, when the Golden Knights and Minnesota Wild meet in Game 4 of a best-of-seven divisional playoff series at Xcel Energy Center.

The Knights hold a 2-1 series lead after recapturing home-ice advantage with a 5-2 win Thursday. Pacioretty wasn’t at a morning skate that day, and DeBoer wouldn’t even specify if he had made the trip.

Which means the top-line forward was either taking selfies at the Mary Tyler Moore statue in downtown Minneapolis or having breakfast with his family in Summerlin. Flip a coin.

Pacioretty could be back for Game 4. He could be out for the season. He could be a lot of things in between. It’s probably the latter.

But until we see him on the ice again, the Knights will continue plugging what is an incredibly important spot. They have done a better-than-average job thus far, going 6-3 without Pacioretty.

“I have loved our response,” DeBoer said. “I think it has been the same response this group has had all year to every bit of adversity we’ve had. Whether it has been short lineups or injuries or COVID, it has been next-man up and get to work.

“Obviously, (Pacioretty), that’s a big hole for us. You take anyone’s leading scorer out of their lineup and it changes the identity of the team.”

Does it all

It’s a tough time of year to have a player with 24 goals and a total of 51 points in 48 games out of action. As a replacement, the Knights first tried Tomas Nosek alongside Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson in Game 1. That worked so poorly, Alex Tuch was elevated in place of Nosek by the end of it. Tuch remained on the top line for Games 2 (in which he scored twice) and 3.

It’s not a perfect solution. Moving Tuch definitely affords the Wild a bottom six advantage. Tuch on the third line allows for matchup depth. But nothing is completely ideal with a player of Pacioretty’s skill not available.

He’s also missed on what has been one of the NHL’s least efficient power plays. Pacioretty is the team’s best closer with six power-play goals. He also creates for others.

So he pretty much does it all in some manner.

“Obviously, we miss Max a lot, that’s no secret,” Knights defenseman Alec Martinez said. “But at this time of year, everyone has to pick up the slack. You’re not going to replace a guy just with another guy. You need production by committee and everyone doing their job. Happy with being up 2-1, but this series is far from over.”

Pacioretty might return Saturday night. He might not.

He might be 1,600 miles from here watching on television.

If that’s the case, it would really test the whole game-time decision business nobody believes.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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