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Defensive partners back together again

by Michelle Crechiolo / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Now that the Red Wings are healthy again, they have finally found consistency on the blue line, which suits Brett Lebda fine.

The Red Wings defenseman will be rejoined with Andreas Lilja are a defensive duo beginning with Friday’s home game against the Nashville Predators.

“I think we know each other well,” Lebda said. “I think we’ve played together well in the past together, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Lilja agreed, saying “It’s a lot of fun. I played a bunch with Lebs and I know what he does, and he knows what I do.”

The tandem was together for must of the last two seasons when the Wings made runs to the Stanley Cup finals. Unfortunately for Lilja, post-concussion syndrome has plagued him since February 2009. He returned to the line-up on Monday in Colorado.

Lebda was a healthy scratch in Lilja’s first two games back. Wings coach Mike Babcock said that Jonathon Ericsson will be a healthy scratch for Friday's game, putting Lilja and Lebda back together.

Their play was the bright spot in an otherwise miserable game, making them the subject of Babcock’s praises.

“Obviously they’re real familiar,” babcock said. “I think (Ericsson) played real well with Lils last game, and when you go through the clips like I do, it’s very evident that there was lots of communication going on.

“The best Lebs has ever played here is when he played with Lils, because Lils talks so much, he’s a team leader that way, and ideally he’ll settle in and play a real good game for us.”

Although they have been teammates since 2005-06, Lebda and Lilja didn’t start playing together as a consistent pairing until their 2008 run to the Stanley Cup. Since Lilja has missed 61 of the team’s 63 games, Lebda hasn’t had a steady partner yet this season, seeing time with each of the other six defensemen.

Although all of the Wings’ current defenseman have all been a part of the roster for two years now and know each other well, Lebda is excited to skate with Lilja, saying it will be nice to have some consistency and play with the same guy all the time.

NO HARD FEELINGS: Friday is the first time Lilja will face off against Nashville’s Shea Weber since he was injured in their fight that took place Feb. 28, 2009.

Lilja is just treating it as a regular game, holding no grudge against Weber.

“It was a clean fight,” Lilja said. “He just got the best of it, that’s it.”

Seventh-place Nashville is coming off a Thursday night home win over Los Angeles, which puts them five points ahead of eighth-place Detroit. Both Calgary and St. Louis are only a point behind the Wings in the Western Conference standings, which makes a win over the Predators all the more crucial.

While a five-point deficit seems high, the Wings still have a chance to make-up ground with 15 of their remaining 19 games being against Western Conference opponents.

“Obviously there’s a little more emphasis on this one, we’re chasing them for a playoff spot here,” Wings forward Patrick Eaves said. “So every game at this point is huge, and this game is one of them.

DOWN THE STRETCH: After putting his team through a tough practice on Thursday, Babcock made Friday’s morning skate optional for his players, and said that would be the norm through the remaining regular-season schedule.

“I don’t know if you saw our skate (Thursday), but I think that’s why we had optional,” Babcock said. “We’ll have a lot of that, we’ll either not practice or optional.”

The Wings have 19 games left to play over a 37-day period, meaning that almost all of their games will be played either every other day or back-to-back.

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