– Almost exactly four years ago, Justin Abdelkader
scored the game-winning goal for his alma mater, Michigan State, to clinch the national championship against Boston College.
The goal was scored with 18.9 seconds left in regulation and was the latest game-winning goal in NCAA championship history, a clutch goal to say the least. So far this season, the Red Wings’ forward has been clutch when taking advantage of his ice time.
The Muskegon, Mich., native is in his first full NHL regular-season, playing in 71 games, where he’s been a physical impact player, leading the team with 179 hits. He has seven goals with a 11 assists and has a plus-13 rating.
“I’ve just got more games under my belt, more experience, more comfortable, more confident,” Abdelkader said. “I just feel like I belong now, compared to previous years.”
With a veteran laden team, Abdelkader has gotten a nice dose of savvy advice from his teammates.
“The veterans have been really good,” he said. “They have kind of showed us younger guys how it should be done, on and off the ice. How you need to work, train, how to prepare for games. I think that’s how it always has been here. This is a great organization for younger guys to come up through and learn from the guys who have been there and done that. That’s why they’ve been successful.”
Captain Nicklas Lidstrom
has seen the growth spurt occur in front of him this season and sees him use one of his greatest attributes to his advantage.
“When he’s using his size to his advantage, he’s tough to play against,” Lidstrom said. “He’s a strong skater and he gets in on the forecheck. I think that line with he, Mule (Johan Franzen
) and Bert (Todd Bertuzzi
) together are tough to defend. They’re big bodies who protect the puck and can score as well.”
A hard-hitting forward, Abdelkader knows what is expected of him and his role.
“I’ve spent the majority of the season on the wing and been playing center now and can be versatile wherever they play me,” he said. “I just go out there work hard and keep it simple and hopefully keep growing my game and keep getting better.”
Veteran forward Danny Cleary
believes he saw Abdelkader play his best game of his career when he scored twice and was a physically presence in last Saturday’s 4-3 overtime win at Nashville.
“He did a great job, he did everything,” Cleary said. “Putting aside the two goals he scored, he played terrific, he was physical and played really hard and it really showed.”DESPERATE TEAMS AWAIT:
With the regular-season winding down, the Wings final three games are against two teams fighting for playoff spots. First, the Wings travel to Carolina on Wednesday to take on a Hurricane team currently is in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, but is 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
The Wings and Blackhawks finish the season with home-and-home games in Detroit on Friday and Sunday in Chicago.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks are playing for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“Playing Carolina, they are in the same boat (as Chicago), where they’re going to be a desperate team battling to make the playoffs and need the wins,” Lidstrom said. “So they’re going to be some tough games heading down the stretch.”INJURY UPDATE:
According to coach Mike Babcock, defenseman Niklas Kronwall
(upper body) will miss his third straight game when the Wings play Carolina on Wednesday in Raleigh.