SUNRISE, Fla. -- Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk declared himself ready to go after the morning skate Thursday and will make his return to the lineup against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.
Datsyuk, out the past 14 games with a knee injury, will play for the first time since the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against the Toronto Maple Leafs on New Year's Day. Datsyuk will skate on a line with Darren Helm and Daniel Alfredsson.
"Sooner or later, I needed to start," Datsyuk said. "I waited enough. We'll see what happens tonight."
Datsyuk, who was named Russia's captain for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, said he wanted to see game action before the Olympics but said his focus was on the Panthers.
Asked to assess Russia's chances in the Olympic tournament, Datsyuk replied, "I don't think about this. My big priority is tonight's game and keep playing better and better. This is my first priority."
This is the second time this season Datsyuk will return to the lineup at BB&T Center following a lengthy absence.
After missing seven games with a concussion, Datsyuk came back against Florida on Dec. 10 and had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 shootout loss.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who will coach Canada in Sochi, said he didn't have a specific game plan for Datsyuk.
"We're just going to play him and see how he does," Babcock said. "I just hope we're doing the right thing. I hope we're not just bringing him back because it's the Olympics. I hope that he's actually ready. We're going to find out tonight. One thing about getting on the ice, you can't hide out there."
With Datsyuk back in the lineup, forward Patrick Eaves is expected to be a healthy scratch.
Goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who left after the first period of a 5-0 victory against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday because of dizziness, is available, but Jimmy Howard will get the start for the Red Wings.
"I was pretty dizzy and light-headed and couldn't really focus," Gustavsson said. "I don't know what it was. Things settled down pretty quick. We did a few tests and all was fine. Now, I'm ready to go again.
"It wasn't like a concussion or anything like that. I don't know what it was. I felt like maybe I could have kept going, but they wanted to be sure and be safe, and I respect that. We did a lot of tests and all was fine, so no problems."
The Panthers are expected to go with the same lineup they used Tuesday when they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1.
Here are the projected lineups:
Notes: Bertuzzi, who has gone without a goal in his past 18 games, will be a healthy scratch for seventh consecutive game.
Injured: Mike Mottau (lower body)
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