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Ex-Wing Filppula quieter than ever during playoffs

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith takes a drink during practice Thursday morning.

Tampa, Fla. – The phone calls and texts have stopped.

You won't find Tampa Bay forward Valtteri Filppula, the popular former Red Wing, contacting his old teammates during the playoffs.

It's the postseason, and that means all communication is off.

"I still have a lot of close friends there but I haven't been talking to them," said Filppula after Thursday's morning skate. "Maybe after the series we'll get back to normal.

"Being playoff time, it's a little bit different and the focus is on what we're doing, and what we want to do here."

Filppula, 31, is one of the veterans on the Lightning, someone who helped win a Stanley Cup in Detroit as a younger player but has a different role in Tampa Bay.

The young Lightning players look to Filppula for guidance and leadership.

"You'd have to ask the other guys how they're influenced; I'm trying to do my best," said Filppula, who added he followed Nicklas Lidstrom's lead when they played together in Detroit.

"Guys like Lidstrom, he wasn't the loudest guy, but he was a good example on the ice," he said. "I'm not a loud guy either but I'm trying to do a good job on the ice and lead by example."

Filppula had 12 goals and 36 assists this season while playing all 82 games. He ranked second among Tampa forwards, averaging 19:01 of ice time.

"He's a real good man, a good teammate," said coach Mike Babcock of Filppula. "Excellent skater, he can transport the puck. He was a really good Red Wing and helped us win a Cup."

Filppula learned much from veterans such as Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg as he was improving as a player with the Red Wings.

"You see a lot of great players and how they change in the playoffs and play even better," Filppula said. "It is a good place to learn."

On the Lightning, Filppula is the only player on the roster with a Stanley Cup ring.

"He knows how to defend, he's always on the right side of pucks," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He does so many things -- kill penalties, plays on the power play, wins faceoffs. He's out in the last minute (of the game). I can go on and on.

"That's what he does for us and those guys are invaluable."

Filppula signed a five-year contract worth $25 million on July 5, 2013, looking for an opportunity to gain a greater role in a lineup.

Constrained by the salary cap but also knowing there were a slew of young forwards on the way from Grand Rapids, the Red Wings didn't pursue Filppula aggressively. But there's no doubt his versatility was important to the Red Wings' success.

Winning this series, said Filppula, will not be easy for the Lightning.

"(The Red Wings) have a real good team all the way around," he said. "They move real well, they have a lot of skill and experience and it'll be tough. We have to play real well to be able to beat them and hopefully we can do that."

Ice chips

Babcock said Justin Abdlkader (hand) is out for Game 1.

The Red Wings will continue to go with Alexey Marchnko on defense (Brendan Smith is out), while Landon Ferraro remains on the fourth line, with Teemu Pulkkinen forced out of the lineup.

... Lightning coach Jon Cooper (Lansing) said defensemen Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr, and forward Alex Killorn, all of whom missed games late in the season, will be the lineup for Game 1.

Defenseman Jason Garrison, who has been out since colliding with Abdelkader March 28, skated Thursday and appears to be close to a return.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

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