DETROIT – A single word couldn’t describe the elation coursing through Carlo Colaiacovo’s veins Thursday morning when he learned that he would make his first Stanley Cup playoff appearance in a Red Wings’ sweater.
“I don’t even know what the word is to use. I think excited is a small word,” said Colaiacovo, who will replace rookie Brian Lashoff in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Anaheim Ducks tonight at Joe Louis Arena.
It’s been beyond a frustrating year for Colaiacovo, who signed a two-year free agency contract last September. Injury prone throughout most of his 10 NHL seasons, Colaiacovo suffered a separated shoulder in the first week of the lockout-shortened season.
“It’s a situation that you never wish on anybody,” he said. “But in the same sense you have to be professional. You have to be ready because anything can happen. Obviously we’ve seen different things happen throughout the series and at the end of the day you’re a hockey player for a reason and when you get the opportunity you gotta take the chance and be ready and fill in the void when needed.”
Colaiacovo will be the third different defensive partner for Jakub Kindl, who began the playoffs alongside rookie Danny DeKeyser, who had season-ending thumb surgery following Game 2.
Colaiacovo hasn’t played a whole lot this season as his injury kept him out of the lineup for all but six games. But tonight, in a must-win game for the Red Wings, Colaiacovo is being asked to do what the coaches think he does best.
“We didn’t move the puck,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We struggled, in particular that pair a lot that game, opening shift and a number of other shifts. We weren’t good enough so we’re making a change.”
Colaiacovo has been a good team player, waiting his turn to get back in the lineup. Though it hasn’t been easy, he was relieved when assistant coach Bill Peters gave him the news that he had been waiting to hear.
“When you see the coach come up to you, you expect it’s going to be something that you’re not used to hearing,” Colaiacovo said. “I’m jacked, man. It’s going to be my first playoff game at The Joe. I love playing in this building. I have to keep my emotions intact, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to be riding pretty high tonight.”
Justin Abdelkader will also return to the lineup for Game 6. The Red Wings’ forward sat out the last two games of the series while serving a two-game suspension for his illegal hit to the head of Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman.
Abdelkader will assume his role on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Surprisingly, Babcock has decided to clear space for Abdelkader by removing fourth-line forward Patrick Eaves tonight.
Mikael Samuelsson, who played on the top line in Abdelkader’s absence, will slide down to the fourth line with center Cory Emmerton and left win Todd Bertuzzi.
“Real good question and I ask myself the same question,” Babcock said. “He played good, does what he’s supposed to, runs over people and a real competitive guy. But because I know more insider information that I’m not sharing with you, I have to have other guys to cover up for other people just in case they can’t survive. I did the same thing you just asked, it makes no sense for me.”
Daniel Cleary, who was injured during Game 5, said he experienced some second-day soreness on Thursday, but he’s ready to go tonight in what is an elimination game for the Red Wings.
“Huge game tonight. I’ll be important for us to keep it calm, keep it loose,” he said. “The thing about elimination games is you want to go out and have no regret. With the younger players we have to tell them they’re going to have butterflies and you’re going to be nervous. We’ve been nervous and it goes away after the first part of the game. Just go out and play your game. Stay focused and leave everything out there.”
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