DETROIT – Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg was guarded when asked by reporters Wednesday about the likelihood of a return for Game 4 against the Boston Bruins at Joe Louis Arena.
“I’m not ruling out the morning skate,” Zetterberg said. “I take it day by day. I can’t say anything. It’s out of my hands. Today was a good day. I’m happy with that. Hopefully tomorrow is a better day.”
The Red Wings are down 2-1 in their best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series. Detroit has managed just two goals so far, and could use the offensive spark and certainly the emotional lift that Zetterberg’s return could give to the team.
“I don’t know if it’s possible he’ll be back. I have no idea,” Wings forward Gustav Nyquist said. “But obviously it’s great to see him out there especially when you saw him in that much pain when he first got back from the Olympics. That’s not fun to see a guy you look up to and your leader being hurt like that. So it’s great to see him back.”
Zetterberg practiced Wednesday on a line with Justin Abdelkader and Todd Bertuzzi. Wings coach Mike Babcock later said the forward line was necessary because Pavel Datsyuk (paternity leave) and Daniel Alfredsson (back pain) had excused absences.
Zetterberg is still recovering from back surgery on Feb. 21 to remove part of a herniated disk that caused excruciating nerve pain. He’s been skating for the past two weeks, but only ramped up his on-ice levels in the last seven days. He said a few more full practices would be ideal, though given the playoff schedule he isn’t sure that he’ll have that luxury.
“That would be optimal. But at the same time it’s tough to find good practices in the playoffs,” said Zetterberg, who produced 16 goals and 48 points in 45 games prior to surgery. “You don’t practice. You only play games. So one of these days you just have to make a decision.
“The conditioning you’ll get when (you) play games. It’s tough when you’re skating on your own because you won’t get the same thing. Once I feel good enough to see if I’m cleared that’s probably when I’ll be playing games. I’m going to have still go through a few more steps before I have that conversation.”
The 33-year-old Zetterberg ranks fifth all-time in franchise playoff history with 114 points in 123 games. His 55 goals rank third in club history to Steve Yzerman (70) and Gordie Howe (67).
In the past month, Zetterberg has repeatedly said a return in late April or early May was more likely.
“The good thing is it’s not in my corner. I’ve got to be cleared by the doctor,” Zetterberg said. “I’ve got to do all those exams. I’m just preparing myself to get into better and better shape, try and get as much game-like situations as I can in practice. Today was a good day of that.”
However, he was asked several times about his playing status for Thursday and he didn’t rule it out, though he must first get clearance from team doctors.
“The more I amp stuff up in the gym and on the ice now we just have to wait and see the reactions,” Zetterberg said. “If I don’t feel any setbacks or don’t feel anything bad that’s when I’ll probably start that conversation, but still this was the first practice I’ve really had where I’ve been in all the drills and skating a line.”