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Extra off-days gives Zetterberg hope

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Henrik Zetterberg still has hopes of returning to action in the Red Wings first-round series with Boston. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – The Red Wings-Bruins series doesn’t get underway until Game 1 Friday in Boston, the last of the eight opening-round series to kick off the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.

But starting a day or two after everyone else might be beneficial for Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, who is still recovering from discectomy surgery in February to remove material from a herniated disc that caused excruciating pain in his lower back.

Originally, the Red Wings though the first-round series with the Bruins would begin Wednesday or Thursday, but the Boston Celtics have their final home game of the NBA season on Wednesday.

The unexpected delay gives Zetterberg a few extra days to prepare with an eye on returning later in the series.

“We were always shooting for Round 2, but we have two extra days now,” said Zetterberg, who has been skating on his own for a week. “If it’s just before that I will be happy. It’s still a ways away. I’m doing well, happy to be back skating here.”

The plan is for Zetterberg to minimally skate with the team Thursday before he travels with them later that day to Boston and ramping up his activities in the days ahead. Still, no timetable for his return to the Wings’ lineup has been established.

“I haven’t skated a lot. This phase, being on the ice more, skate more, being involved more with the team is going to decide when I come back,” Zetterberg said. “It’s impossible to say now if it’s Round 2, if it’s before or after that. There’s a lot of things that need to happen, but so far everything has been good and we just have to keep taking it day by day.”

Zetterberg finished the regular season with 16 goals and 48 points with a plus-19 rating in 45 games. He last played for the Red Wings in their 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Feb. 8.

With Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk out of the lineup for significant stretches, nobody gave the Red Wings a chance at reaching the postseason. However, since the Olympic break, young players from the team’s AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids arrived and made a big difference, helping the Red Wings post a 13-8-3 record to squeeze into the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive season, extending the longest active streak in North American professional sports.

“I’m very proud. Just seeing the guys stepping up, different guys stepping up every night,” Zetterberg said. “It’s amazing we kept the streak going. I don’t think a lot of people believed that going into the Olympic break and definitely not after, but we found a way. That’s what we do.

“It’s an amazing streak. You want to keep that alive, but in the same way we want to do more than keep the streak alive. Keeping the streak alive and then going home after the first round isn’t fun.”

While most injured players keep a low profile around the team during their rehabilitation, Zetterberg had a hard time keeping his distance from the locker room during and after home games.

“In the regular season I tried to stay away as much as I could,” he said. “We still have a lot of leaders in this room, core guys that have been around. Now that I’m around, part of the skates and travel with the team and then hopefully be playing later.”

Zetterberg admits the toughest part of his recovering has been watching games on TV but that is coming to an end soon, he hopes, and he wants to contribute to the team’s goal of winning another Stanley Cup.

“There are worse things that I could watch,” he said. “You want to be playing. It’s a process. I’m looking forward to that. Today we had our first playoff meeting. This is the best time of the year. When you go through the regular season this is where you want to be and we’re here now. We’re facing a really good team and we have to play good hockey to move on.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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