DETROIT – Brendan Smith expects the partisan crowd inside Joe Louis Arena will detonate once the captain’s name is announced over the sound system prior to Game 4 of the Red Wings best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series against the Boston Bruins.
“They’re definitely going to erupt. They should. I erupt when I see him on the ice, imagine what fans are like,” Smith said. “He’s a fan favorite. He’s well spoken. He’s humble. He’s one of the best players. It’s going to be cool and good for everybody. We have to channel it in the right direction and towards the game.”
Down 2-1 in the series, and just two goals to show for in the first three games, the Red Wings certainly can use the emotional lift that Henrik Zetterberg’s return can provide the team and their fans.
Zetterberg worked on a forward line with Pavel Datsyuk and Justin Abdelkader at Thursday’s morning skate. The captain was not available after the practice as he hurried out of the building for an appointment with his back specialist. Pending medical clearance, Zetterberg will be a game-time decision, Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
“Z told me that when I asked him this morning he said he was going to the doctor,” Babcock said. “But because we were even talking about it I put him on a line, I put him on the power play, and the doctors decide not me. So I’m hopeful. We’ll know at game time after warm-ups.”
If he returns tonight, it will mark Zetterberg’s first game since he led Sweden to a 4-2 win over the Czech Republic in an Olympic opener in the Sochi Games on Feb. 12. The next day, Zetterberg, who was Sweden’s captain, couldn’t get out of bed in the Olympic village.
Excruciating pain and discomfort prevented Zetterberg from returning to the United States right away, but as soon as he could tolerate the long flight home he underwent surgery in New York City on Feb. 21.
Not sure of how much ice time Zetterberg will get or just how affective he’ll be against the Bruins, Babcock is sure of some things that his captain will bring to the Wings.
“I can expect him to provide great leadership both in the room and on the bench, so if we get nothing else that’s good enough,” Babcock said. “But I think he’s pretty competitive and he’s been working at it. Obviously when you have back surgery they don’t let you come back early. So the doctors and him have had a plan and he’s been working on it, he’s skated a ton, he’s done lots of bumping, not much in practice because we haven’t had any. You don’t practice very much (in the playoffs) but with all of the optional skates and stuff like that he feels he’s close that’s why he’s going to see the doctor.”
Getting a player of Zetterberg’s caliber back in the lineup gives the Red Wings a solid two-way performer who has an uncanny ability to find time and space. But he’s also extremely hard on the puck, which makes him difficult to defend in the corners.
The Bruins expect that Zetterberg will play tonight, but they’re not going to scrap their game plan for one player.
“The biggest thing is they have another real good player on their team,” Boston coach Claude Julien said, referring to Datsyuk. “We’re not aware of where he is in his conditioning, but at the same time every playoff game has to be about your team. You make adjustments to play against the other team not just an individual. That’s not going to change for us.
“I think we always kept a close eye on Datsyuk. It’s not one guy we’re looking at necessarily we look at it as a group. We’ll be aware on the ice when he’s there. I don’t get last change so we might not always get the perfect matchup, but our team puts trust in being able to play together and work together to slow these guys down.”
Besides Zetterberg, veteran forward Todd Bertuzzi is expected to make his 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs debut tonight. Bertuzzi will replace rookie forward Tomas Jurco on Riley Sheahan’s line with Tomas Tatar.
Jurco has no points and is a minus-1 through the first three games of the series.
“It was three kids playing together and it wasn’t going as well I would have liked,” Babacock said. “I didn’t think we spent enough time in the offensive zone with that group and I’m hoping that one veteran player can help them out.”
In the last two playoff runs, Bertuzzi has no points with a minus-7 rating in 11 games for the Red Wings.
Daniel Alfredsson (back pain) will miss his second straight game in the series. According to Babcock, the veteran forward should be ready for Saturday afternoon's Game 5 in Boston.