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Salei leaving Coyotes howling: Wings defenseman 'just doing my part,' and doing it great // Detroit News
Ruslan Salei appears baffled as a reporter approaches him.
You see, Salei isn't exactly used to media congregating around his locker room.
If he's doing his job well, there usually aren't any reporters mulling around, asking the Red Wings defenseman questions.
"Why do you want to talk to me?" Salei asks.
How about the fact Salei is playing headline-worthy hockey?
Heading into Game 4 on Wednesday, Salei had a goal (his first in the playoffs in three years), ranked just behind defensive partner Niklas Kronwall with seven blocks, had two hits, and was averaging 15 minutes, 46 seconds of ice time.
Most of all, Salei and Kronwall weren't giving any time or space to the Coyotes forwards, making their life miserable.
"I don't think we're doing anything differently than what we had been doing," Salei said. "Obviously playing with Kroner is giving me more opportunity on the ice, I would say.
"I just do my part, accept my role on this team."
It's not a glamorous role.
Salei's job is to deny opposing teams a chance to score.
Still, it's an important role.
And one Salei has had his entire 14-year career.
"I'm fine with it," he said of the lack of notoriety. "I'm comfortable with it. I don't need any spotlights, or attention from the media. I'm fine with that.
"There is a lot more famous guys on this team. There are Hall of Famers. I do what I do and I'm fine with that."
And how do his teammates describe Salei?
"A good, solid, tough player," is how Kronwall describes Salei.
But, Salei nearly didn't get the opportunity to show those qualities during the postseason.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock opened the competition for the sixth and final defensive spot between Salei and Jakub Kindl shortly before the end of the regular season.
Salei's effectiveness dipped the second half, partly due to the time spent in California to be with his pregnant wife (the couple had a girl in March).
But Babcock, who coached Salei when both were in Anaheim in 2002, is beginning to see a similar player these days.
"It's the fountain of youth," said Babcock, a phrase he uses often regarding how veteran players are re-energized when the playoffs begin. "I know how competitive he is."
Salei wasn't pleased with seeing his spot in the lineup up for grabs, but understood it was a coaching decision.
"It's in the past and I don't want to talk about it," he said. "It's the coach's job to get the best out of the players and the player's job to do the best they can to help the team win and that's what we're doing.
"I guess (the competition) served its purpose."
Salei effectively has returned from back surgery, which sidelined him most of last season in Colorado. An unrestricted free agent, he hasn't given much thought to next season.
But there's no doubt he's excited about being a key piece in the playoffs again.
"Best time of year," he said. "I love this time."