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Well-rested Wings are ready for Sharks

by Eric Gilmore
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A year ago, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was concerned about his team's lack of rest before facing San Jose in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Fast forward 12 months, and Babcock is worried about the Red Wings being rusty after a long layoff before their rematch with the Sharks.
"It's always a concern, but I'd rather have that concern than playing last night," Babcock said Thursday after practice at HP Pavilion, where the Red Wings and Sharks will meet Friday night in Game 1. "We understand that. This building's always a tough building, the first 10 minutes anyways.
"Obviously last year we came right from Phoenix. (We) didn't have the same opportunity to rest or prepare. This year we would have been in big-time trouble if that had been the case just because we had so many injuries. We needed guys to get time off and get healthy so they could get playing. So we're excited about the opportunity. We know we're playing a real good team. It should be fun."
Last year's series against the Sharks was anything but fun for Detroit. The Red Wings were coming off a hard-fought, seven-game series against the Coyotes that ended in Phoenix just two days before Game 1 at San Jose. The Sharks beat Colorado in six games and had four days to rest and prepare for the Red Wings.
Not surprisingly, the Sharks came out of the blocks fast at HP Pavilion. They shot to a 3-0 first-period lead and held on for a 4-3 win in Game 1 with Joe Pavelski scoring twice. Pavelski scored two more goals in a 4-3 victory in Game 2. The Sharks increased their series lead to 3-0 with yet another 4-3 win, this time in Detroit – Patrick Marleau scored the game-winner at 7:07 in overtime – and went on to win in five games.
"It was tough," said Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart, a former Shark. "You go from an emotional seventh-game victory and then one day off and you're right back at it. We just got behind the eight-ball a little bit. We could never get caught up. You never want to admit it, but we were a little bit fatigued just from everything. It will be nice to come in a little bit fresher this time."
A little bit? The Red Wings haven't played a game since April 20, when they completed their quarterfinals sweep in Phoenix. Rest is a good thing during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially for a veteran-laden team like the Red Wings, but for some Wings, this has been too much of a good thing.
Yet for forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, an extended break was exactly what they needed as they battled back from injuries.
Zetterberg hasn't played since April 6 when, he sprained his left knee on a hit by Carolina's Bryan Allen. Franzen missed Game 4 against Phoenix after suffering a left ankle injury in Game 2 when Phoenix's Shane Doan rocked him into the boards.
Both of them took part in the entire practice Thursday and said they were good to go Friday night.
"I felt good," Zetterberg said. "This week has been good for me, a lot of practice and a little more rehab. So I'm ready to go."
Zetterberg has also had time to adjust to a skating while wearing a knee brace.
"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "I've been skating for almost a week and a half with it. It's no big deal."
Zetterberg led Detroit with 80 points during the regular season, scoring 24 goals and dishing out 56 assists. When the Red Wings captured the Stanley Cup in 2008, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the postseason.
"We're hoping he's going to give us a real boost because we think he's a high-end player," Babcock said of Zetterberg. "He's determined; he works hard. I think he's ready to go, and yet in saying that, until you play some games, until you (play at) game-tempo. … I think it should be two really fast teams that want to get the puck up and down the ice and want to have the puck the whole time playing against each other. So something's got to give there. We'll see how he does."
Zetterberg has the versatility to play either center or wing. On Friday, he was at wing on a line with center Pavel Datsyuk. Babcock said he has hasn't decided if Zetterberg and Datsyuk will play together in Game 1.
"I've decided they're practicing together today, and they're going to warm up together tomorrow night," he said.
The Sharks certainly know how important the 6-foot-3, 222-pound Franzen is to the Red Wings. When Detroit beat San Jose 7-1 in Game 4 last year, Franzen scored three times in the span of 3:26 in the first period and finished the night with four goals. He had 55 points during the regular season -- 28 goals and 27 assists.
Asked if he was ready to play in Game 1, Franzen gave a one-word answer.
"Yeah," he said, as if there were ever any doubt.
Franzen's focus is clearly on Game 1 at the Shark Tank and matching the Sharks' intensity from the second the puck drops at their high-decibel home.
"They come out hard and throw a lot of pucks at the net," Franzen said. "We've got to try to take it to them before they take it to us."
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