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Jurco gets opportunity in Wings' big game

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Tomas Jurco reacts to his first-period goal that pulled the Red Wings even at 1-1 in Pittsburgh on Feb. 18. It was Jurco's fourth of the season. (Photo by Getty Images))

DETROIT – Earlier this season coach Jeff Blashill often referred to his long-range plan for Tomas Jurco, the Red Wings forward who has been a healthy scratch more than any of his Detroit teammates this season.

Now, in what amounts to be the biggest regular-season home game in the organization’s recent history, Jurco will get an opportunity to help the Red Wings earn two points tonight against one of the teams they’re battling with for an Eastern Conference playoff slot.

Jurco confirmed he’s playing against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight at Joe Louis Arena. It’s expected that he’ll replace rookie Anthony Mantha on the right wing of the fourth line with center Luke Glendening and forward Andreas Athanasiou.

Mantha, who was called up last month and made his NHL debut March 15 at Philadelphia, has two goals and three points with a minus-6 rating in 10 games.

While Blashill was coy about Jurco’s status for tonight’s game, which starts at 8 p.m. EDT, the coach did offer the following thoughts on his expectations for the 23-year-old should he play against the Flyers.

“When he’s at his best he’s on the forecheck hard,” Blashill said, “he’s skating, he’s on the forecheck hard, he’s physical, he’s getting stick on puck creating turnovers, he’s on the track hard, taking away time in space, coming back so our D can gap up. He’s a big body that can get to the net and he’s got a real good skill set. So that’s what he does when he’s playing his best.”

Jurco has produced four goals and two assists in 42 games with the Red Wings this season. Last November, after playing just two games during a four-week stretch, the Wings assigned Jurco to Grand Rapids, their minor-league affiliate, for conditioning. In his brief stint with the Griffins, he lit up the American Hockey League, scoring five goals – four on the power play – and nine points in five games.

It’s definitely been a frustrating year for Jurco but a positive attitude has certainly helped him gain the opportunity that’s in front of him tonight.

“It’s hard to come back after so long,” he said. “It’s not easy but I’ve been working out hard and tried to stay ready as much as I could, so I hope I’m going to feel good tonight. So we’ll see. I’m just going to keep playing my game. I’m probably going to need a few shifts to get confidence back and get going, so I’m just going to try to have short shifts in the beginning and then we’ll see. I think I’m going to feel good. I’ve been working hard. It’s hard but I’ll just go out there and play my game and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”

Consistency and high-pace level has been some of Blashill’s chief concerns regarding Jurco this season. But the coach has seen something in Jurco that he believes gives the Red Wings a chance to beat the Flyers.

“Jurcs has done a great job of, I think, being extremely mature and putting himself in position where I think he can be real successful,” Blashill said. “He's been great in practice every day so now he gets a chance to jump through that window of opportunity."

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