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Rafalski won't play in Game 1 vs. Ducks

by Brian Compton
DETROIT – One of the top defensemen in the NHL won't be in the lineup for the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Coach Mike Babcock announced after Friday morning's skate that Brian Rafalski, who finished tied for fourth on the team in scoring with 59 points, will miss Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Anaheim Ducks with an upper-body injury.

Rafalski did not practice with the team Thursday, at which time Babcock told the media that he simply gave the 35-year-old a day off. But when Rafalski missed Friday morning's skate, Babcock admitted that the club's No. 2 defenseman will not play. According to Babcock, Rafalski's status is day-to-day.

With Rafalski out of the lineup, captain Nicklas Lidstrom will be paired with Jonathan Ericsson. Niklas Kronwall will skate alongside Brad Stuart and Brett Lebda will be partnered with 47-year-old Chris Chelios, who will make his 2009 postseason debut.

Where Rafalski's injury hurts the Red Wings most is on their power play. Babcock said he plans to give more time to players such as right wing Mikael Samuelsson and defenseman Niklas Kronwall to help fill the void. Ericsson could also see some power-play time, as well as Brad Stuart.

"It affects it a lot," Babcock said. "Raffi's a good player defensively, a good player offensively. What we'll do there is Samuelsson, Kronwall and Lidstrom … we'll have more of a 3-man rotation on the back. Stuart or Ericsson will play in that spot as well."

Babcock is anxious to see what Ericsson can do with the increased playing time and against Anaheim's top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. The former ninth-round pick (2002) scored the game-winner in Detroit's 4-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the opening round. He was a plus-2 in the series, which was a sweep.

"It's going to be a good opportunity for him because he's going to match up against the Getzlaf line," Babcock said. "He's a big body. He can skate real well. He actually looks like Chris Pronger. He's a good passer. He doesn't cross check and do that stuff, but he does the rest. He's a good player. He's early in the learning curve. He's going to make some mistakes, but he's been excellent for us. We like him."

Anaheim wasn't prepared to celebrate upon hearing the news that Rafalski will miss Game 1. Given the amount of depth the Red Wings have, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said he fully expects another player – whether it's Ericsson or someone else – to step up on Friday night.

"They've got a great group," Carlyle said. "Because they're missing one player, it can be a rallying point for the other players. Somebody else is going to get more of an opportunity. Obviously, Brian Rafalski is a talented defenseman and a big part of their back end. But I'm sure they'll have other people that can step in."

Getzlaf wasn't prepared to celebrate upon hearing the news that Rafalski is out, but hopes that he and his teammates can create more scoring opportunities without the veteran defenseman guarding Detroit's blue line.

"It's not a boost by any means, but obviously he's a top player in this League," said Getzlaf, who had two goals and six assists in six games in Anaheim's opening-round series win against San Jose. "It's something that we're going to have to take advantage of tonight."

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