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Zetterberg gets lift from line change

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
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DETROIT – Heading into Thursday’s game, Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg had struggling offensively.

Zetterberg had a goal and two assists in the three games leading up to the 5-1 home win over Minnesota. For a team desperate for wins in the final full month before the playoffs, the Wings are in need of more production from their top scorers.

Coach Mike Babcock shuffled the forward lines, moving Valtteri Filppula to the first line with Zetterberg and Dan Cleary. The move appeared to energize Zetterberg, who netted a goal and two assists in Thursday’s win.

“No one is challenging themselves more than Z,” Babcock said of the 2007 Conn Smythe winner. “These are proud guys, they know how good they are capable of being. He wants to be that good every night. We tried to give him as much help as we could with linemates. Fil is a good passer, we just felt that might be a good situation for him, and try to work it out. He’s got to feel good about himself, and that’s real important.”

After Friday’s practice, Zetterberg said that Filppula fit in well on the wing after playing much of the season as a center. Filppula picked up an assist on Drew Miller’s shorthanded goal.

“Fil is a good player,” Zetterberg said. “He’s got a lot of good stuff in him, and over time I’ve gotten a chance to play with him more. He can play in a lot of situations, and he really makes good things happen and plays well. He’s a good fit for me and Cleary. Cleary’s probably one of the guys in the league that doesn’t get enough credit for the work that he does, and you know, it’s a good combination.”

Filppula said he enjoyed the move to the new line.

“Yeah, it wasn’t bad,” he said. “Obviously any guy on this team gets to play with good players, but it was fun to play with Hank and Cleary, but getting the win was the most important thing.

“I think we think a little bit alike, so that makes it easier to have an idea of where the other guys are. It was just one game though, so hopefully we can keep getting better too.”

CHELI’S RETURN: Former Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios made his NHL return Thursday when he played in Atlanta’s 2-1 loss at Columbus. After spending the majority of the season with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, the Thrashers signed him on March 2, and called him for their game against the Blue Jackets.

“It was great to see,” Babcock said. “Cheli is a competitive guy, and we’re all excited for him. I texted him (Thursday) before the game to wish him luck, it was great to see him playing. You couldn’t bring in a better veteran guy to help a team that wants to take steps with young guys, because he does it right. He’s a competitive guy, and whether he plays well or plays poorly, he’s back the next day, he’s the first guy in the room and he’s working hard again.

“He had a great run with the Red Wings, obviously because of the young guys and the salary cap we couldn’t keep him, but good for him. Not many guys would have hung out in the American League that long to get another shot. I think it’s his 26th year in the league, I read somewhere that he could have started collecting his old-age pension, his NHL pension, a couple years ago. I think it’s a phenomenal story, and great for him.”

Chelios, 48, didn’t have the best game he could in his return, however. Columbus’ first goal went in off the defenseman, and their second occurred when Chelios tried to pinch and the Blue Jackets headed down the ice and scored.

“I saw some of the highlights,” Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “They only showed two goals that he was on the ice for. He got a bad break and a bad bounce that went in off him, and the second one he pinched and kind of a broken play in front of the net. But I’m happy for him, happy that he’s back in the league, and hope he can get some games under his belt now.”

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