DETROIT – For someone who hasn’t played very much this season Mikael Samuelsson is confident that he can help the Red Wings in Game 4 tonight at Joe Louis Arena.
Samuelsson is in the lineup for forward Justin Abdelkader, who was suspended for two games – beginning with tonight’s game – for his Game 3 hit on Anaheim defenseman Toni Lydman.
The veteran Swede, who missed 44 games this season with an assortment of different injuries, will be asked to take on an increased workload alongside Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
“I think I can handle that,” said Samuelsson, when asked about the additional minutes. “Maybe sounds a little cocky, but I've been here before. It shouldn't be a problem. Obviously games (are) games and it's something different, but conditioning-wise, I don't think it's a problem.”
Prior to Saturday, Samuelsson hadn’t played since March 31 when he suffered a strained pectoral muscle. Before then he missed 19 games with a fractured index finger, and another 12 with a sore groin. He played little more than 11 ½ minutes on the fourth line in Saturday’s 4-0 loss.
Time will tell if Samuelsson can handle the added minutes with the top line that is averaging 20-minutes of ice time in the series. But he’s a big body (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) with playoff experience, a powerful right-hand shot, and he knows Zetterberg’s on-ice tendencies.
“He’s a big, strong guy with a good shot,” Zetterberg said. “I haven’t played with him for a while. I played with him for a while when he was here and we worked really well. We’ll see how it goes. He’s excited to play. He looks good out there.
“We just have to stick to the plan, do the good things, score some goals and we’ll be fine.
Datsyuk’s taking a wait-and-see approach to how Samuelsson may impact the line, but because the Red Wings trail 2-1 in the series, they’ll need all four lines to contribute.
“Everybody pulling piano,” Datsyuk said. “It’s playoff time.”
Samuelsson will also play the right point on the second power-play unit, that went 0-for-6 on Saturday, after scoring four times in the first two games of the series in Anaheim.
“It's no secret we got to put more pucks to the net,” said Samuelsson, of the power play. “I felt we got some really good looks and some good chances. We didn't bury them, especially in the first period. If we do that it's a totally different game. It's over and done with now. I think we're going to put some more pucks to the net. Other than that we're going to stay with the same focus and just bury the pucks.”
Coach Mike Babcock isn’t married to the idea of keeping Samuelsson on top line if it isn’t working. Todd Bertuzzi, who played in Game 2 in Anaheim, is also in tonight’s lineup, and could move up if Babcock sees fit to make the change.
“I am going to start (Samuelsson) there,” he said. “I also put Bert in as well. I have two options that way. I’m going to watch the game and see what happens. Obviously after watching last game it was real evident that we never got to the net. We never shot the puck. Weren’t inside, weren’t heavy enough. So all of those things are the challenge for everybody on our team, not just Samuelsson.”
Babcock indicated that the decision to play Samuelsson on the top line was based on a consensus with the leaders in the team’s locker room.
“When I talked to them they had an opinion, I had an opinion,” Babcock said. “When it went together we went with it. Now we’re going and see what happens. The bottom line is Abby’s been real important to us in the series. He’s been important for us all year long, he’s become a good player for us. He’s not available. Part of playoff hockey is you lose guys along the way, just like (Danny) DeKeyser and (Drew) Miller. You just have to keep playing.
“Samuelsson hasn’t played. Bert hasn’t played. I’m well aware of that. There’s nothing I can do about that. They get their opportunity. They’ve got to make a difference.”
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