RED WINGS (21-10-9) at FLAMES (21-16-3)
TV: SN; FS-D
CALGARY -- Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund has shown a lot of patience. It's about to pay off.
The 25-year-old is set to suit up in his first game after missing 29 straight with an abdominal strain Wednesday against the Detroit Red Wings.
"It's a great feeling," Backlund said following Calgary's morning skate. "I'm really excited to get back playing here. It's been a long time. I'm just really excited. It's going to be a great feeling to step on the ice."
Backlund hasn't played since late October and had an abdominal procedure in November to correct a strain. He resumed skating in December and joined teammates in practices in the New Year.
The decision to return against Detroit was ultimately his.
"I talked to [Backlund] after the morning skate. He feels great," Calgary coach Bob Hartley said. "Looking from a coaching standpoint as a group we felt [Backlund] looked real good in practices. Talking to the medical staff, they were fine. The last decision was [Backlund]'s and he told me that he wanted to play so he'll be in for tonight's game."
The return has been a long time coming for Backlund. He originally sustained the injury training in the offseason and after a cautious training camp played in the first 11 games to start the season.
But the injury wasn't improving and the pain was too much to play through.
"It's just been a long time not knowing what's going on," Backlund said. "No one really knew what was going on either. Not until the surgery we really got a feel for what was going on. It's been dragging on since the end of August. It's a long time. We were trying all the medical things we can try.
"The surgery I had was sports hernia injury but that's not what my injury was. The surgeon couldn't guarantee pain-free. It's not always pain-free either. It's something I can deal with. It's not at all as bad as before but I feel good on the ice and that's the most important thing."
He won't wait long to be tested.
Though Hartley isn't sure exactly what kind of usage he'll have tabbed for Backlund, it's likely that he'll see plenty of action against the likes of Red Wings forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
"We'll get a feel for his game," Hartley said. "That's always the unknown. You never know how it's going to go. He's in a great frame of mind. He's looking forward to playing. Obviously I feel [Backlund] is one of our smartest two-way centers. We see some of Mikael Backlund playing against the other team's top line, maybe tonight, maybe not, but eventually I want to use Mikael Backlund a lot."
Here are the projected lineups:
Henrik Zetterberg - Pavel Datsyuk - Justin Abdelkader
Tomas Tatar - Riley Sheahan - Stephen Weiss
Johan Franzen - Darren Helm - Gustav Nyquist
Drew Miller - Luke Glendening - Joakim Andersson
Jonathan Ericsson - Niklas Kronwall
Kyle Quincey - Danny DeKeyser
Brendan Smith - Xavier Ouellet
Scratched: Daniel Cleary, Brian Lashoff
Injured: Jakub Kindl (elbow), Jonas Gustavsson (shoulder), Tomas Jurco (back)
Curtis Glencross - Sean Monahan - Joe Colborne
Johnny Gaudreau - Josh Jooris - Jiri Hudler
Mason Raymond - Mikael Backlund - Paul Byron
Brandon Bollig - Matt Stajan - Lance Bouma
Mark Giordano - TJ Brodie
Kris Russell - Dennis Wideman
Raphael Diaz - Deryk Engelland
Scratched: David Jones, Brian McGrattan
Injured: Sam Bennett (shoulder surgery), Ladislav Smid (upper body)
Status report: After a 4-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, the Red Wings had four skaters and three goaltenders on the ice. Mrazek is expected to start in the second of back-to-backs for Detroit. Jurco isn't expected for the Red Wings after sustaining a back injury against Edmonton…The Flames assigned Markus Granlund and Corey Potter to Adirondack of the American Hockey League on Wednesday. Bennett, who has yet to play a game this season, took to the ice on his own prior to Calgary's skate for the first time since having shoulder surgery in October.
Who's hot: With a goal and an assist against the Oilers, Datsyuk has seven points in his past seven games…Hudler has assists in six straight games for Calgary, matching the longest streak of his career (Feb. 11 – 22, 2011) as a member of the Red Wings.