DETROIT — Will it turn out to be a tease or will injured left wing Henrik Zetterberg, who went through a full practice with the Red Wings in impressive fashion Wednesday, be ready for a return in Game 4 Thursday at Joe Louis Arena?
It seems highly unlikely — and possibly even foolhardy — that Zetterberg would step into the lineup after just one workout with his teammates. Zetterberg, who underwent back surgery Feb. 21 after playing one game for Sweden in the Olympics, wasn’t expected to return until the later rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but after practice, he said he’s recovering ahead of schedule. How far ahead remains to be seen. Coach Mike Babcock wouldn’t commit to a position either way.
One thing is certain, if Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is Boston’s ‘Z,’ Zetterberg is most certainly Detroit’s ‘Z’.
“He’s one of the guys that we feed off of,” said defenseman Brendan Smith. “He’s our leader, he’s our captain, and he does everything right. He plays both ends of the ice. Obviously if we could get him back, it’d be huge for our squad. That’d be awesome.”
Considering that the Red Wings trail two games to one in the first round of the playoffs after losing two straight, they could use an infusion of some sort, but it seems the buzz around Zetterberg Wednesday morning was extremely premature. After all, this isn’t Bruins captain Ray Bourque coming back in Game 7 against Hartford to help Boston eliminate the Whalers in April of 1990. Bourque had only missed three games.
Zetterberg said a decision to return will be a collaborative process between player, coaches, trainers, and doctors. One of the challenges during the postseason is that there are few opportunities for a full practice. Center Pavel Datsyuk, whose wife gave birth to a baby girl, had the day off, as did defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who was also scheduled to become a dad on Wednesday.
“I appreciate that Pavel took the day off so I can actually have a skate today,” said the 33-year-old Zetterberg. “It felt good. I still take it day by day. I have to do some skating, this was nice. That’s the problem with the playoffs, it’s tough to get game-like practices. Today was a good day of that and hopefully I can get some more of that in.”
As badly as Zetterberg wants to play and help his teammates, he also has to be mindful of his condition. Rushing back too soon could have serious consequences. He has not played since the Olympics.
“I’ve got to be cleared by doctors and I’ve got to do all the exams,” Zetterberg said. “The more I amp stuff up in the gym and on the ice, then we just have to wait to see the reactions. If I don’t have any setbacks and I don’t feel anything bad, that’s when we’re probably going to start that conversation. But still, this was the first practice I really had where I was in all the drills and on a line. It was fun.”
Zetterberg said the game plan was to aim for the second round. However, given the pickle the Red Wings find themselves in, there might be no Round 2.
“I can’t really say anything now, I’m just happy that I had my first real skate and I’ll see how I feel in the morning,” he said.
With full-team workouts so rare this time of year, Zetterberg said that could factor on his availability. It’s virtually impossible to replicate game conditions when you’re skating by yourself or with one or two others.
“That would be optimal [to have more full practices],” Zetterberg said. “But it’s tough to find. You don’t practice, you only play games, so one of these days, you just got to make a decision. Once I feel good enough and healed enough to get cleared, that’s when I’m probably going to play games. But I have to still go through a few steps before we can start that conversation I think.”
It has been more than two months since Zetterberg has laced up skates in a game.
“Obviously, it’s been a while since I’ve played,” he said. “That first game, when that game will be, will be tough anyway [whether] it’s in five days or two weeks. That first game is going to be tough, but it’s all about being healed enough. That’s the thing. As soon as I get the go-ahead that I’m healed, that the disk is good, that’s when we’re going to start to talk about coming back.”