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Red Wings' Zetterberg healthy, producing at elite level

by Paul Harris

DETROIT -- Henrik Zetterberg feels better physically this season than he has in a long time.

That's in direct contrast to 2013-14, when the Detroit Red Wings captain continued to deal with a back issue that nagged him for the previous few years.

Finally, after Sweden's first game of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Zetterberg's back had enough.

He came back to the United States, where he had surgery to remove part of a disc that was rubbing against a nerve, and he missed the rest of the regular season. He returned in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the final two games of Detroit's five-game loss to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference First Round.

Zetterberg, who was limited to 45 regular-season games, didn't really know what to expect coming into 2014-15, his 12th NHL season.

"It's been good, it's been fun to be playing," Zetterberg said. "Last year I just want to scratch from the memory bank. This year coming in I didn't really know how to feel. I've been skating well. I've been feeling good health-wise."

The Red Wings play the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center in the Wednesday Night Rivalry game (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports).

Zetterberg said his rehabilitation regimen is a big reason for the way he has bounced back.

"I'd never been through a surgery before, so I didn't know what to expect," the 34-year-old said. "The rehab is really important to get that right, and I feel good now. I play a physical sport. You never know what could happen."

The center leads the Red Wings with 49 points (15 goals, 34 assists) in 55 games and continues to provide the leadership that made him a no-brainer to succeed Nicklas Lidstrom as captain.

"He's the one that gets us ready for games. He's the one that leads us every single night," occasional linemate Gustav Nyquist said. "He brings it every night. The way he's performed all throughout the season he's been our best player, arguably."

"He's captain for a reason, he's our engine," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "I think right now he's probably playing the best he ever has."

Nobody appreciates that more than Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.

"He's determined and he's calm and he knows what's going on and he understands what's right," Babcock said. "He elevates his game when it matters."

Nyquist gave a couple of examples of what makes Zetterberg so good.

Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg feels better physically this season than he has in a long time, and it's showing with his play on the ice. (Photo: Getty Images)

"You play with 'Z,' you get to touch the puck a lot," Nyquist said. "That's a fun thing. I get to keep the puck. Your line is real strong in the O-zone, hanging onto it. For me personally, I just try to find open spots for him to find me and he usually does.

"And in the D-zone, on the breakout pass he's always in the right spot. He does things right. I'm just fortunate to be playing with him."

Playing with young, talented players like Nyquist has helped Zetterberg too.

"Also been playing with some fun linemates," he said. "Young guys that kind of keep me feeling a little younger."

Things were different in Sochi after that first game of the Olympics.

"Seeing what he went through in Sochi was not pretty, it's not something I would ever like to see a friend go through again," said Kronwall, a Sweden teammate.

Zetterberg is a great example to the young players.

"That helps the development of the younger guys to see how bad they (Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk) want it, how much work they put in," Kronwall said. "When they see that they want to follow."

And they do.

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