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Young and Younger (at heart)

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Wings' Chris Chelios will tie the NHL mark on Thursday for most games-played in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
DETROIT – On the eve of the Stanley Cup playoffs, two different Red Wings had completely separate views of the Western Conference quarterfinal series against Nashville, which is set to begin Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena.

One will get the chance to make his playoff debut, while the other will soon set a league record for most playoff-games played.

Justin Abdelkader is cutting class on Thursday, but wouldn’t miss the opportunity to play in his first-ever NHL playoff game. On the opposite end, veteran defenseman Chris Chelios will be extending his own Stanley Cup record when he skates in the playoffs for the 23rd year.

A week ago, Abdelkader was a junior on the Michigan State campus, studying for final exams in International Business. On Wednesday, he has asked about missing the rest of his junior year for a shot at playing playoff hockey.

“It’s been pretty crazy,” said Abdelkader, who signed a three-year deal with the Red Wings last Friday. “I’ve had some time in the hotel to think about everything. I don’t know if it’s all set in yet. It’s such a whirlwind. I’m sure I’ll have some time over the summer to look back at what experience I’ve had here.”

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the Red Wings’ locker room, Chelios prepared for playing in a record-tying 247th playoff game on Thursday. Chelios’ friend and former Montreal teammate Patrick Roy currently hold the mark.
Abdelkader (8) hopes to make his Stanley Cup playoff debut this week when the Red Wings host Nashville in Games 1 and 2 at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday and Saturday.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s a friend that I’m beating, but he has nothing to be ashamed of,” Chelios said. “He has his Cups. He’s got his games-played and he’s a hall of famer.”

The oldest player in the league, Chelios is equally as proud of eventually setting a new playoff games-played record as early as Game 2 on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena.

“That’s something that I would take a little pride in,” said Chelios, 46. “The fact that if you look at the playoff games that I’ve played in it’s almost like three more years added on to my career. It’s a lot of hockey and the fact that I’ve been on some great teams and have been able to make the playoffs every year, I’m pretty proud of that accomplishment from an individual standpoint.”

Abdelkader was 3-years-old when Chelios made his Stanley Cup playoffs debut and scored his first NHL goal against the Bruins in the Boston Gardens.

“I’m just as excited and just as nervous as the first one,” Chelios said. “I hope I can get a goal or somehow contribute to us winning. Everybody says that this is the time of the year that you wait for. The success that we’ve had in the regular-season, not that it doesn’t mean something to win a Presidents’ Trophy – I’m just as proud of that as the Jennings – but now is when you realize how close it really is to winning the Stanley Cup. This is the start.”

With the likelihood of Mikael Samuelsson returning to action from the injury list, it’s not known if Abdelkader will make his playoff debut in Game 1. But Wings coach Mike Babcock certainly hasn’t expressed any reservations to insert the rookie into the lineup.

“We’re going to have a lot of game-time or morning decisions to see how guys responded today,” Babcock said. “We’ve had a number of injuries and it looks like some guys are starting to turn around.

“We’ve very comfortable playing either (Abdelkader) or (Darren) Helm. Abby was very good in both games that he played. He’s confident. He has a big body. He plays hard and seems to be real intelligent with and without the puck. He’s going to be a good NHL player. Whether he’s going to be a good NHL player tomorrow, I don’t know the answer to that question.”

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