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Nate Thompson overcame major injury and helped Ducks reach second round of NHL playoffs

Ducks center Nate Thompson (44) celebrates with the bench after scoring a goal against the Calgary Flames in Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs on April 17.
(Derek Leung / Getty Images)
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When Nate Thompson began the grueling rehabilitation from a torn Achilles’ tendon last summer, a documentary film about Kobe Bryant got his attention.

The Lakers star overcame the same injury, and Thompson could identify on some level with the “Black Mamba.”

“It was impressive,” Thompson said. “A lot of the rehab he did, I did, too. He’s a Hall-of-Fame athlete. It’s the mentality that I think everyone underestimates how hard Kobe Bryant worked off the court too. I respect him as an athlete because of all that he accomplished and how hard he worked.”

Thompson, from Anchorage, Alaska, isn’t about to call himself the “Alaskan Mamba,” but he is proud of successfully coming back from the second major injury of his career to help nudge the Ducks into the second round of the playoffs against the Edmonton Oilers. Game 1 is Wednesday at Honda Center.

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Thompson scored in Games 3 and 4 of the first round, which doubled his total in 30 regular-season games. He is normally a fourth-line center, but Ducks coach Randy Carlyle put Thompson on a new line with Rickard Rakell and Corey Perry in Game 3 to spark something, and it appears Carlyle will stick with that.

“He solidified our fourth line, and he gave us options, and in the last series I felt that he was skating well,” Carlyle said. “He was moving well. We decided we were going to make the change.”

Carlyle likened the return of Thompson after the All-Star break to getting a player at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, it was a familiar pattern. Thompson had shoulder surgery to repair two ligament tears that limited him to 49 games in 2015-16. Last June, he tore his Achilles’ making a simple lunge move in a workout. He required a scooter to move around and later was in a cast and a walking boot.

“When you’re going through this, you really kind of see what you’re made of in those situations,” Thompson said. “The physical part is always the easiest. It’s the mental part you have to fight through.”

Teammates took note of his comeback.

A well-liked player in the locker room, Thompson has been an everyman-type grinder for most of his career — dependable in both ends, strong in the faceoff circle and physical.

“Any time you’re off for that long, it’s going to take you a little while to get your game under you,” Ryan Getzlaf said. “I think ‘Tommer’ did a great job of building his foundation so that when the playoffs hit, he was ready to play.”

Unlikely heroes are a staple of the playoffs. Thompson isn’t getting ahead of himself, but he likes to think his game translates to the playoffs. He felt he was never far from blending back in.

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“Being here for the last three seasons, and having that familiarity, I think, helped, just being able to jump in with the guys and not feeling I missed a beat,” he said.

“Having that camaraderie with everybody. Being able to come in and have that chance to contribute was a good opportunity for me. I was trying to make the most of it.”

Fowler closer

Cam Fowler took part in power-play drills in a sign of improvement from his knee injury.

“Fowler is trending towards being available,” Carlyle said. “I would say we would be very very close to our [full] group come Wednesday.”

Defenseman Sami Vatanen practiced and defenseman Hampus Lindholm skated beforehand.

“Today was a good day, and like I said, I can’t wait for [Tuesday] and see where things are,” Vatanen said.

Cogliano a finalist

Andrew Cogliano was named a finalist for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Cogliano has never missed a game in his 10-year career.

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