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Datsyuk, Zetterberg could reunite against Lightning

Red Wings forwards on same line in preparation for Game 1

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

BRANDON, Fla. -- Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg haven't played together much this season. But the Detroit Red Wings forwards practiced on the same line Tuesday and might reunite Wednesday for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Tampa Bay Lightning (7 p.m.; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, FS-D, FS-F).

"Sometimes those two together, the spark that they provide -- not only each other, but our team -- can be a real positive thing," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "So we'll see."

Datsyuk and Zetterberg haven't played together as often as they would like during their careers. Blashill in his first season, as Mike Babcock did as coach before him, generally kept them apart to balance lines and prevent opponents from keying on them.

But when the Red Wings have needed to boost their offense, pairing Datsyuk and Zetterberg has been a go-to option.
And they need to boost their offense now.

Zetterberg did not score last year when the Red Wings lost a seven-game, first-round series to the Lightning; it was the first time he failed to score in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 12 appearances. He ended this regular season with no goals in 11 games and one in his past 24.

Gustav Nyquist, who had one goal in the Lightning series last year, has one goal in his past 17 games. Tomas Tatar, who had three goals last year, has one goal in his past 10 games.

"Last couple years, I think the whole team's had trouble scoring (in the playoffs), but obviously we're a big part of that," Nyquist said. "So we've got to be better."

Video: OTT@DET: Zetterberg roofs puck after nifty move

Reuniting Datsyuk and Zetterberg does three things:

One, it energizes them and takes advantage of their skill, creativity and chemistry. Datsyuk, 37, has said he plans to leave the NHL after this season and return to Russia. This could be the last chance for Datsyuk and Zetterberg to play together. They'll want to make the most of it.

Two, it frees Zetterberg, 35, from some defensive responsibilities. Part of the reason he hasn't been scoring is that he's had to come deep into the defensive zone and transport the puck up ice, often against top competition. With Datsyuk at center and Justin Abdelkader at right wing, Zetterberg skates on the left wing.

Three, it draws the toughest matchup, particularly when the Lightning have the last change at home. That should leave better matchups for the line of Tatar, Nyquist and center Riley Sheahan, who ended the season with five goals in nine games, and the line of Dylan Larkin, Darren Helm and Brad Richards.

"We've just got to be real solid in our own end," Nyquist said. "I think that's where our offense starts, so we can be fast through the neutral zone and get in on some long shifts on their [defense]. [Sheahan has] been hot here lately. Hopefully me and [Tatar] can catch onto some of that."

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