ANAHEIM, Calif. – A month ago, Todd Bertuzzi could hardly walk on his own without using a cane.
Tonight he’ll return to the Red Wings’ lineup for the first time in nearly three months when he skates with the fourth line in Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals with the Anaheim Ducks holding a 1-0 series lead.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Bertuzzi told the media following the Wings’ morning skate at Honda Center. “Looking forward to just getting in and helping the guys and being a part of it again.”
The 38-year-old Bertuzzi will replace Jordin Tootoo on the line with center Cory Emmerton and winger Patrick Eaves. But he won’t see any ice-time on the power play, which has produced goals in four of the last five games.
Bertuzzi last played on Feb. 7 in St. Louis when he felt acute pain in his lower back during the game. The debilitating pain eventually worked its way down a nerve path across the top of his right thigh, keeping him away from the rink and off of skates for weeks.
“The one thing I’ve got going for me is it’s not my first year,” Bertuzzi said. “I’ve been around a bit, understand the game and I understand the playoff game. Just going to try to get it deep work it down low and try to get our chances there, and be solid defensively and try to keep it as short as possible.”
In his 17th NHL season, Bertuzzi played in just seven games, in which he produced two goals and an assist this season for the Red Wings, who were 4-2-1 in that stretch with him in the lineup.
The Red Wings hope that Bertuzzi’s physical style can add energy, something that was noticeably absence in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Ducks.
“When he plays well he's a big man with good hands,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We need him to take care of the puck and be on the forecheck and grind down low. (He) hasn't played all year. It's going to be a tough thing for him. … He's got to help us.”
Babcock said he'll reserve judgment on whether Bertuzzi will play beyond Game 2.
“Who has the puck after he has it? That's the game," Babcock said. "That's soccer, that's basketball, that's football. If you give the puck up, did you do it in a controlled manner? You go watch 10-year-old girls soccer, after they have it does someone else have it? Usually. It's ping pong. We don't want to play ping pong.''
Babcock also alluded that there’s an outside chance of veteran forward Mikael Samuelsson making it into tonight’s lineup.
“On every team there's guys who got shot in feet and things going on,” said Babcock, referring to an injury to an unidentified player. “Samuelsson's our next guy on deck. I'm real cautious to bring two guys who haven't played into the lineup, never mind one, so unless we need him, he won't go, but he's ready to go. I told him to get prepared to play.”
Samuelsson has played in only three games this season with a myriad of injuries, including the latest pectoral muscle strain. But the veteran, who helped the Red Wings win the 2008 Stanley Cup said he’s ready if needed.
“I’m very anxious,” he said. “I love the playoffs, I think everybody does. And I would love to play the game.”
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