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Wings catch Tiger Fever during break

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer celebrates the third out in the eighth inning of Tuesday's Game 4 win over the Oakland A's. Several Red Wings' players attended the game and were impressed with the atmosphere, especially in the late innings. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – With four days off before their next game, the Red Wings have passed time by cheering on the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series.

“It was perfect timing with the Tigers, two home games, so we didn’t mind the break that much,” said Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, who attended both games at Comerica Park this week.

The Tigers and the Oakland Athletics will play a winner-takes-all game in their best-of-five series Thursday night in northern California. The winner will take on the Red Sox for the right to represent the American League in the World Series. Game 1 of the ALCS is Saturday in Boston.

Other Red Wings, including Jimmy Howard and Jordin Tootoo, also attended Tuesday’s Game 4 in downtown Detroit. Howard has been going to Tigers games for a few years, but he said he’s never heard it so loud at Comerica as it was Tuesday, especially in the eighth inning when the A’s loaded the bases with no outs.

“It was a blast. Let me tell you, in those situations, it’s fun being a fan,” the Red Wings goalie said. “Just sitting there cheering and not the one being in that situation. It was just fun cheering them on. That game was awesome to be a part of last night. It was amazing to watch (Max) Scherzer pitch out of that jam.”

For coach Mike Babcock, watching the Tigers-A’s series has made him more nervous than coaching in a Game 7.

“It’s way more nerve wracking to watch them play than to coach us I can tell you that,” Babcock said. “I thought it was awesome bringing (Scherzer) off the bench yesterday because if you don’t win Game 4 forget about saving a starter for Game 5. … To me it was exciting stuff.”

As a coach, Babcock said he appreciates the job done by manager Jim Leyland, especially when many counted the Tigers out after the A’s took a 2-1 series lead.

“He doesn’t let the fans coach the team, he doesn’t let the media coach the team, he does what he’s supposed to do,” Babcock said. “You make these decisions based on experience and you go with your gut and your gut is based on a track record of being steady on the rudder and winning. You don’t win over and over again. You don’t become a serial winner like he is by accident.”

It would be logical to think that any of the Wings’ North American-born players would be some of the most passionate Tigers’ fans. But it might be Zetterberg – who a few years ago didn’t know the difference between a ball and a strike – who is cheering the loudest in the Wings’ locker room.

“Not a clue,” said Zetterberg of his previous baseball knowledge. “I enjoy it a lot now, especially this time of year. It’s fun to watch them.”

Zetterberg enjoys baseball’s relaxed pace, but over the last three years he’s gotten into the importance of every pitch in the postseason.

“Anything can happen. They can be down five, six runs and all of a sudden it can be tied, and the other way around too,” Zetterberg said. “Especially now in the playoffs, it’s so hard to go to the playoffs and it’s so tight and real exciting. … Everything rises a couple of notches.

“It’s fun for us too. We’re just starting our season and it’s fun to get that playoff atmosphere. You know how excited the guys are to go and play in the postseason and it’s fun to be a part of it.”

Jimmy Howard shows off the pink goalie mask he plans to wear when the Red Wings host Philadelphia in Saturday's annual Breast Cancer Awareness Night. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)

BREAST CANCER NIGHT: This Saturday, against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Red Wings will host their seventh annual Breast Cancer Awareness Night at Joe Louis Arena.

As in the past, Red Wings’ players will show their support of the initiative by wrapping their sticks with pink hockey tape for use during pregame warm-ups. The sticks will then be signed by the players as they exit the ice and auctioned off on the concourse during the game.

Besides the special pink pregame tape, Jimmy Howard plans to take it one step further. The Red Wings’ goalie will wear a special pink mask, as well as a new pink and white catching glove and blocker.

“My way of trying to help out,” Howard said. “I’m supposed to have the pads, supposed to have pink everything, but the pads haven’t arrived yet so we’ll see when they get here.”

If the leg pads arrive too late for him to break in, Howard might wear them for another home game, perhaps when the Wings hosts the NHL’s initiative ‘Hockey Fights Cancer’, which is Oct. 26.

“We’ll see how they feel Friday in practice and Saturday morning in pregame skate but there might not be enough time to break them in. I’m hoping I’ll be able to wear them.”

Howard’s special Breast Cancer Night equipment will be auctioned off at a later date.

ABBY’S JUMP START: Forward Justin Abdelkader has started the season with a deluxe opportunity, skating with Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who he finished with last season.

Abdelkader has given the top line a spark, collecting a couple points in three games, and drawing comparisons to former Wings net-front guy Tomas Holmstrom.

“He’s like Homer, he doesn’t get enough credit,” Zetterberg said. “He’s doing a lot of hard work for us and he makes it a lot easier for us, too, going to get the puck for us, going in front of the net, doing the tough, hard jobs for us. I also think this year he looks faster than he was last year and more comfortable in that role.”

Abdelkader’s physical style also has him tied for fourth in the league with 15 hits, despite playing a modest 13:41 per game, which is about a minute less than last year.

“It’s good for Pav and I to have him play like that for us,” Zetterberg said. “It can really jump start us too.”

CLEARED TO RETURN: Team doctors have cleared forward Jordin Tootoo (sprained shoulder) to return to the Red Wings’ lineup. Now comes the waiting game.

The last time Tootoo played was in Game 1 against Anaheim on the Western Conference quarterfinals.

“My job is to play hockey when I’m called upon. For me it’s one day at a time,” Tootoo said. “I feel I’m in the right state to get back at ‘er. Right now it’s just about maintaining my strength and making sure every day I come to be ready, both mentally and physically.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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