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Lidstrom on pace to return by Sunday

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT Nicklas Lidstrom could return a few days earlier than expected, and could be available for Sunday’s home game against the Nashville Predators.

“It’s a possibility,” said Lidstrom, when asked about a Sunday return. “I felt a little sluggish out there; haven’t skated for two weeks. Skated a little bit yesterday and today. I felt OK, but I’m hoping that it will improve and get better in the next few days so I can hopefully play this weekend.”

Lidstrom has been sidelined since suffering a sprained MCL during the first period of the Wings’ 4-0 win at Colorado on Feb. 18. Lidstrom was hurt when he fell ackwardly to the ice after he was hit heavily into the boards on Avs forward Ian Laperriere.

Without Lidstrom in the lineup, the Wings have lost four of the last five games.

“It sounds like he’s going to be ready for Sunday, so that will be a positive thing if he can wrap this up this week in practice,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Obviously, he’s our leader. He’s our best player and we’d like to have him.”

Lidstrom leads all NHL defensemen in scoring, compiling seven goals and 50 assists. This is the sixth season that he has assisted on at least 50 goals.

The Red Wings will get an added boast to the blue line when veteran defenseman Brian Rafalski (groin) returns to the lineup Wednesday against St. Louis. Rafalski has missed the last eight games, dating back to Feb. 12.

Even though the Wings were without four defensemen at one time last month, it’s Lidstrom’s return that should give this team a much needed push heading into the playoff stretch. Niklas Kronwall returned last Friday from a clavicle injury, and has four assists in two games. Chris Chelios (leg) is still sidelined with no clear answer as to when he might return.

“Just getting healthy is going to make a huge difference,” Babcock said, “just because the speed of our team without our backend moving the puck hasn’t been near as good, therefore we haven’t generated near the offense. The bottom line is you want to get healthy, so you can spread your talent out a little farther and make it hard to play against.”

Though Lidstrom left the ice early Tuesday, he hopes to skate in a full practice soon.

“Hopefully later this week I can do some of those battle drills and get into some more difficult skating and more quickness than I did today,” he said.
This week could be a huge benefit for the Wings, who embark on a season-long, five game homestand at Joe Louis Arena. The Wings have the luxury of finishing the regular season at home on 10 of the final 15 games.

That alone, could give Detroit a lift heading into the playoffs.

“We would like to get our team back and get back playing at the top of our game, because that to me gives you confidence,” Babcock said. “It’s great to go in (to the playoffs) feeling good.”

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