COSTA MESA, Calif. – Mikael Samuelsson, who missed all but four games in the regular season, and only skated 11-minutes and change in Game 3, increased his workload considerably in Monday’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Anaheim Ducks.
With Justin Abdelkader begging a two-game suspension for his Game 3 hit to the head of Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman, Samuelsson was elevated to the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
Other than knowing that his ice-time would pick up, Samuelsson didn’t have any expectations for his new role going in.
“I took it as it came and went with it,” said Samuelsson, who was a plus-1 with four shots in Game 4. “I thought it was great, I thought it was fun. … A little different role for me, like going a little more to the net, stand there and battling a little bit. More than I’m used to. But played with two great players and it’s always fun.”
Samuelsson logged more than 21-minutes in Game 4 – that’s an 87 percent increase in ice-time from Saturday’s game – including 55-seconds of power-play time with the second unit.
But the 36-year-old Swede said he felt good during the game, and ever better Tuesday morning.
“I felt good actually,” Samuelsson said Tuesday afternoon at the team hotel. “I shouldn’t say surprising, but I felt like I’ve been in (all along). I felt fresh and like I can go tomorrow again.”
Since Abdelkader has one more game to sit out, it’s more than likely that Samuelsson will get an opportunity to contribute on the top forward line. But coach Mike Babcock hasn’t made a final decision regarding his Game 5 lineup.
“That sure is my plan but I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about the lineup,” he said, “just how we played and how they played and what adjustments we have to make for tomorrow.”
It’s obviously been a very frustrating season for Samuelsson, who returned to the Red Wings last summer after spending the last three seasons in Vancouver and Florida. He was on the 2008 Stanley Cup team and left the organization following the 2009 run to the Cup finals.
He signed a two-year contract to return to Detroit, and throughout Monday’s game he paused on occasion to soak in the raucous Joe Louis Arena crowd, and to realize why he wanted to come back.
“When we scored the tying goal and after that it was a great atmosphere,” Samuelsson said. “I was actually thinking to myself during the national anthem that this is great. I know this is a cliché, but I know this is why I’m doing this. It was great.”
BERT’S MINUTES: Todd Bertuzzi is another veteran forward who has battled through injuries all season and is finally well enough to contribute in the playoffs.
The veteran forward returned to the line for Game 2 in Anaheim, where he logged under eight-minutes of ice-time. He sat out Saturday’s 4-0 loss Saturday, but was back in for Game 4. And while he wasn’t crashing into too many Ducks, his presence was felt in the 14-minutes that he was out there with the bottom-six forwards, working on the fourth line with Cory Emmerton and Patrick Eaves.
“I had been out for three months so kind of understand what it takes in order to come in,” said Bertuzzi, who has dealt with a sore back all season. “The other lines have been pretty much playing pretty well so it’s just something you got to adapt to. You have to change your game. It’s a little bit different. You can’t afford to make those high-risk plays in our end. You’ve got to keep it simple and go from there.”
TRAFFIC JAM: The Red Wings managed to make life a little more difficult for Jonas Hiller, firing 49 shots at the Anaheim goalie, including 41 in regulation, in Game 4.
While the Red Wings have preached all series about throwing pucks at the net to create chaos and rebounds for second chances, Zetterberg cautioned that they must also do one other important thing.
“You have to get through the neutral zone. If you get through the neutral zone than it’s easier to sustain pressure in their end and you can throw pucks at the net,” he said. “They’re playing a tight system. If you don’t make the easy play it’s tough to kind of get through their neutral zone. We did that last night and hopefully we can do that again tomorrow.”
WIN ONE, LOSE ONE: The Wings and Ducks have alternated victories in this series without either team able to build enough momentum to win back-to-back games. Anaheim won Games 1 and 3. Detroit won Games 2 and 4.
“I concur with that but I'm a believer that's how the playoffs are,” Babcock said. “You just keep playing and you take them one at a time, the highs and lows of it. There's huge highs and huge lows, that's just the playoffs each and every year. One minute you think, 'Oh, my God we're never winning!' and the next minute you think you're going to win the series.”
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