DETROIT - Henrik Zetterberg's play this season has astonished everyone in the NHL.
While the Red Wings have struggled as a team, their captain has been Detroit's rock, maintaining a high level of play and addressing the Wings' lack of consistency after each and every difficult loss.
Zetterberg's demeanor on and off the ice has not gone unnoticed, as it was announced Friday by the Detroit Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, that Zetterberg is the Chapter's nominee for the Masterton Memorial Trophy.
Awarded annually, the Masterton is given to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
In February 2014, Zetterberg had back surgery, finally taking care of an ailment that had been plaguing him for years.
The successful surgery was performed in New York days after he pulled out of the Winter Olympics.
After a lengthy rehab, Zetterberg returned to play a few games for the Wings, but there was concern his career could be in jeopardy.
"I didn't have those kind of thoughts," Zetterberg said. "I knew it was going to be kind of rough that first year coming back from that surgery even though it went well. I came back and played two games, I think. That summer was a big summer for me, tried to get back. It was mostly just rehab that summer and then I think that kind of showed in the following season that I didn't have enough energy to go through the full season."
It has taken him a few seasons of changing his workout routines and his mental approach as Father Time began to creep up on him, but he has adjusted and has been a source of inspiration for his teammates.
"He's always working, always working out," Dylan Larkin said. "Him (Zetterberg), Kronner (Niklas Kronwall) and Pav (Pavel Datsyuk) was the same way. They're always in the gym, making sure their bodies are ready. He's in the training room and he's there for a purpose. He's at the rink early and takes care of himself away from the rink too. He's a true professional, he's smart and he's someone you want as a leader as a young guy."
Larkin grew up watching Zetterberg play and is grateful that he has this unprecedented opportunity to play with and learn from Detroit's captain.
"The thing I've learned the most is his patience, especially playing with him, he is OK and he understands that nothing might happen for 59 minutes and he really preached to me that we just wait for our chance and wait for our chance and wait for our chance, play the right way," Larkin said. "Play the right way and once the other team makes a mistake or there's a chance to go or a time that there's an opening then he'll take advantage of it.
"As a young guy you don't think like that and it's something that's a style of play that has the team in his mind first and he's never taken chances that will end up in our own net."
From a youngster like Larkin to a veteran like Justin Abdelkader, Zetterberg's influence over the Wings is extremely tangible.
"I think he's just an all-around professional. On and off the ice he works hard, he keeps his body well trained and I think his competitiveness and his battle and his smarts for the game are some of the best ever," Abdelkader said. "For him to excel as he has, battling through injuries and he had the back surgery a few years ago, to continue to produce and to carry the load for the team is impressive.
"He has that inner drive. He's been a lot of fun to watch for me and I know a lot of the young guys have learned from him as they've been up. Phenomenal leader and his game feels like he's a fine wine, he gets better with age."
Zetterberg points to being healthy for his turnaround this year, plus he is realistic that he's at a point in his career where his approach is not filled with grandiose expectations.
"When you get older you realize that you're getting closer to the end and you want to take advantage of all the days you have left here. This is a special place," Zetterberg said. "To be able to play for this club and done it for that long, you want to keep going and you want to be able to do it well. But you have to put in your work and the older you get, the more work you have to put in."
He then gets a bit of a bemused look on his face and says wistfully, "I learned to not look too far ahead. We just have to enjoy the moment and you never know what's going to happen. But right now, I'm looking forward to the games we got left here and a big turnaround season next year."
TROUBLE WITH TAMPA: At the moment, the Tampa Bay Lightning are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs.
But with 79 points in 73 games, they are just three points behind the Boston Bruins for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Lightning beat the Bruins in Boston, 6-3, Thursday night with Wings' tormentor Nikita Kucherov scoring a hat trick.
"I watched the game last night," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "They looked like a typical Jon Cooper team, a typical Tampa team. They're very good in transition. They come forward at you a lot, so they come hard on the forecheck. They pinch their D. You got to be ready to get pucks behind otherwise you're going to end up with the puck in your end a lot. You better not give them a whole bunch of rush chances because they're really, really good on the rush, they got a bunch of D that jump up in the play. I think they have one of the elite players in the league in Kucherov. And obviously (Victor) Hedman is one of the elite defensemen in the league. So when you have that level of high-end players, you're a dangerous team."
The Lightning are 4-0-0 in the second half of their last four back-to-back sets and are 5-4-4 overall.
In the regular season, Kucherov has six goals and four assists in 14 games against the Wings.
Tyler Johnson has five goals and eight assists in 16 regular-season games against Detroit.
LINEUP: Blashill said Darren Helm would miss his third straight game with a lower-body injury but he is possible for Sunday's game against Minnesota.
Tomas Nosek will remain in the lineup, centering a line with Drew Miller and Luke Glendening.
Petr Mrazek will start in goal.