DETROIT – Mike Babcock is ready to put Drew Miller into Saturday’s lineup, but on one condition.
“If Drew Miller's in a position to help our team tomorrow, he'll play,” the Red Wings’ coach said following the team’s Friday afternoon practice at Joe Louis Arena.
Miller, who hasn’t played since breaking the fourth metacarpal on his right ring finger four weeks ago, was medically cleared to return for Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Blackhawks at Chicago’s United Center.
If Miller plays it give the Red Wings’ an efficient penalty killer, who was the top shot-blocker among the team’s forwards during the regular season. The last obstacle for a return, Miller said, was to build some more strength in his hand and wrist.
“I think I’m ready to go. It’s up to the coaches, but I feel that I’m an option right now,” said Miller, who would likely take the place of either Todd Bertuzzi or Patrick Eaves on the fourth line.
“I think the last couple of days I’ve come along with the straightening of my hand and my wrist so I feel confident out there,” Miller said. “I feel that I’m ready to go.”
Babcock said he hadn’t made up his mind on whether or not to play Miller in Game 2.
“I got a few hours to figure that out,” Babcock said. “I just said if he's available tomorrow and he's ready to help, then I'll put him in.”
Miller missed the final four games of the regular season and all of the first-round playoff series against Anaheim. He suffered the hand injury on a seemingly innocent play when he was struck by Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler on April 20.
Before the injury, Miller had produced four goals and four assists with a minus-8 rating in 44 games. He finished the season with 81 hits – which were second to Justin Abdelkader’s team-leading 119 – and 41 blocked shots that were high amongst the team’s forwards.
Whether he plays Saturday or in the first game back in Detroit on Monday, Miller is anxious to contribute to the series.
“You just try to stay a part of the team, in for the meetings and be around for the pre-game stuff,” he said. “I have to be ready. It’s tough mentally, but you just have to work through the bag skates and prepare yourself for when you get back in.”
Another way Miller has tried to stay sharp is by watching the playoff games from the stands and making mental notes that will hopefully help him in his return, whenever that may be.
“Watching from the stands you definitely get a different perspective and you can see a lot more,” he said. “There are good and bad things happening, so you definitely learn from being out. You try to picture yourself in your position out there and you watch the power play for them. The penalty kill is big for me, so I try to watch that and try to pick up on things there.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose