MARQUETTE - Former Northern Michigan University defenseman Erik Gustafsson (2007-10) may have been a late arrival for the Philadelphia Flyers this postseason, but he's part of the reason the Pittsburgh Penguins are sitting at home today.
Gustafsson scored his second-career NHL goal and first-ever of the Stanley Cup playoffs on a long-range slapper in the Flyers' 5-1, Game 6, series-clinching victory over the Pens a week ago today.
Gustafsson, who also blocked seven shots in Game 6, has battled injury and bounced between the Flyers and their AHL affiliate, the Adirondack Phantoms, all season, but returned to Philly for Game 5 on April 20.
The Philadelphia Flyers’ Erik Gustafsson celebrates after scoring his first career NHL playoff goal against Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury during the second period in Game 6 of a Stanley Cup first-round series on April 22 in Philadelphia. (AP file photo)
Today, he and the Flyers face off at home against the New Jersey Devils at 3 p.m. on NBC in Game 1 of a best-of-seven second-round series.
For Gustafsson, it's been a surreal feeling to be in the ice for the Stanley Cup playoffs, he said to the Associated Press last week.
"It's a great group of guys, everyone is having fun," Gustafsson said to the AP. "To get in and play - in that kind of atmosphere in front of the home crowd - is unbelievable. It's definitely the most fun I ever had playing hockey."
The Devils ended the season of the only other former Wildcat in the Stanley Cup playoffs, forward Mike Santorelli (2004-07), though unlike Gustafsson, Santorelli never saw any ice time.
The former Nashville Predators draft pick, who signed a two-year extension with the Panthers prior to this season, was a healthy scratch in all seven games this postseason after posting nine goals and two assists in 60 regular season games.
Last year as part of a one-year deal with Florida, Santorelli recorded 20 goals and 21 assists in 82 games.
Like his former NMU teammate in Gustafsson, Mark Olver (2007-10) bounced between the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL and the club's AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, after a concussion forced the forward to miss most of the season.
Olver recorded two goals and seven assists in 15 games with Lake Erie before finishing the year with Colorado. Olver had four goals and three assists in 24 games with the Avs, who like the Monsters, missed the playoffs.
Sault Ste. Marie's Ray Kaunisto (2006-10) recorded an assist in the Manchester Monarchs' playoff series against the Norfolk Admirals this season. The Monarchs lost the series 3-1.
Kaunisto, a former NMU forward, recorded seven goals and 15 assists in 74 games during his second professional season with the L.A. Kings' AHL affiliate.
He signed a two-year entry level deal with the organization following the Wildcats' NCAA tournament run in 2010 and will be a free agent.
Also hitting the free agent market is former NMU defenseman Nathan Oystrick (2002-06), who finished with 11 goals and 32 assists in 60 games for the Phoenix Coyotes' AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates.
Portland is Oystrick's third AHL team in a six -year professional career that has also included 53 games with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2008-09, three games with the Anaheim Ducks in 2009-10 and nine games with the St. Louis Blues in 2010-11.
A pair of former Wildcats have helped guide the Kalamazoo Wings to the ECHL Eastern Conference semifinals, where they are tied with the Florida Everblades at 1-1 in the series.
Kory Karlander (1992-1995) has three goals and six assists in 11 playoff games for the K-Wings after tallying 18 goals and 37 assists in 61 regular season games.
Nick Sirota (2005-09) leads the K-Wings and the entire ECHL in scoring this postseason with a league-high seven goals on top of his five assists. Sirota had 22 goals and 23 assists during the regular season.
The K-Wings eliminated the South Carolina Sting Rays and former NMU defenseman Zach Tarkir (2003-07) in the conference semifinals to advance.
Tarkir, who was joined by 2011-12 NMU senior Andrew Cherniwchan at the conclusion of the college season, recorded 10 goals and 24 assists during the regular season and a goal and two assists in the playoffs.
Tarkir's lone goal came in a four-overtime victory over Gwinnett, which was followed by a double OT victory the following night to clinch the first-round series.
Like the Sting Rays, the Elmira Jackals and former NMU goaltender Brian Stewart (2006-10) were bounced in the ECHL conference semifinals.
Stewart finished with a 2.56 goals against average and .917 save percentage in 40 regular season games, plus a 2.16 GAA and .931 save percentage in eight postseason appearances.
Stewart was called up to the Binghamton Senators of the AHL at one point this season, but never appeared in a game.