BOSTON – Saying his team needs more punch along the blue line, coach Mike Babcock has decided that rookie defenseman Xavier Ouellet will make his Stanley Cup playoff debut when the Red Wings face elimination in their best-of-seven game series with the Boston Bruins.
“I just like that he’s a good player and we needed a change on the back, so to be honest with you we haven’t spent enough time watching him play and knowing,” Babcock said. “He’s been better when he’s played with us than he has been in the American League. He’s a real smart player, he’s played well when he’s been up, we like him. So, we’re making the change because we felt we needed to make the change.”
The 20-year-old Ouellet will replace Jakub Kindl in the Game 5 lineup and likely be paired with Brian Lashoff on the third defensive pairing.
Ouellet was recalled from Grand Rapids earlier in the week to fill in at practice Wednesday when veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall’s girlfriend went into labor with the couple’s first child.
Ouellet will be the sixth Red Wings players to make his postseason debut in this series, joining backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson and rookie forwards Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco and Luke Glendening.
“It always feels good, every time you receive that call,” Ouellet said following Wednesday’s practice. “I feel really excited. It's an amazing feeling to receive that call, especially at this time of year. It's playoff time so it's exciting.”
It’s helped that Ouellet made his Red Wings’ debut in October and was called up two more times before this recent recall.
“For sure, all the players know me,” Ouellet said. “It's not new anymore. It's still really impressive but for sure it helps.”
Other lineup changes include Daniel Alfredsson who returns after missing the last two games with lower back pain. He replaces Todd Bertuzzi on the second line with center Darren Helm and forward Johan Franzen.
Alfredsson played in the first two games of the series with no points and an even rating. When healthy, the Red Wings have benefited from Alfredsson’s shot as a right-handed sniper, particularly on the power play, which is 1-for-13 in the series.
“I mean the player has to be healthy enough to skate. We talk about leadership, leadership is, I mean, saying the right things is important, but playing right is way more important,” Babcock said. “If you can’t skate you can’t play. So we’ve gone through this for a while. Any of these back injuries where they get the shooting pain down their legs it makes it hard for you to skate. And when you’re a little bit concerned and you don’t get involved it makes it hard.
“Alfie skated great yesterday in practice, probably as great as he’s skated in a long time, so we put him in.”
Jimmy Howard will backup Gustavsson, who will start for the second straight game. Babcock disputed Internet reports that Howard has a concussion.
“Just the flu,” Babcock said.