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Draper ready, hopes to get chance in Game 3

by Brian Compton
PITTSBURGH -- It's been a bittersweet postseason for Detroit Red Wings' forward Kris Draper.

An upper-body injury forced the 38-year-old to miss his team's first 10 games of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Draper returned just in time for Detroit's Game 7 win against the Anaheim Ducks on May 14.

But the veteran center, who has been with the club since the 1993-94 season, experienced another setback in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals at the United Center when he sustained a groin injury. He hasn't played since.

Draper was cleared to play before Sunday's 3-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at Joe Louis Arena, but coach Mike Babcock opted to go with the same lineup. Will Draper return to the lineup Tuesday night for Game 3 at Mellon Arena? That remains to be seen, as the veteran has been labeled a game-time decision.

"My day is going to be preparing to play tonight," Draper said after Tuesday's morning skate. "I'll probably find out when I get to the rink tonight. If I get an opportunity to go, I'm really looking forward to it. If not, I'm just going to be in here and be the glorified cheerleader and do all the little things I can do to help these guys to get ready to go tonight."

Draper's status could depend on the health of veteran winger Mikael Samuelsson, who did not skate Tuesday morning. That, though, could be more of a case of rest than an injury. Babcock said Samuelsson's condition will ultimately determine Draper's fate for Game 3. The Wings lead the best-of-7 series 2-0 after recording back-to-back 3-1 victories over the weekend.

"It's not easy to sit and watch at this time of year," said Draper, a faceoff specialist who had 7 goals and 10 assists and played in all but three games during the regular season. "The one thing I've always tried to do day in and day out is just bring a positive attitude and as much energy as I can.

"It's been frustrating. I had a freak injury to miss pretty much the first two rounds. You come back and you're getting in some games and you start feeling good, and then I get another (injury). At this time of year, you just have to deal with it. I've tried to be as positive as I can. When those guys get on the ice, it's tough to get on the bike and watch on TV. But I've been trying to do as much little things as possible to try to help the guys game in and game out."

Either way, Draper is prepared to help his teammates inch closer to a second-straight Stanley Cup championship. The Wings beat the Pens in six games last spring to earn their fourth title in 11 years.

"I'm good to go," Draper said.  "From talking to Mike, it's more of a game-time decision. My preparation is to do everything I can to get ready to go. We'll find out tonight. If I go, I'm really looking forward to it."

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