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Wings focus on special teams in second full practice before playoffs begin

DETROIT >> Quick update from the Wings second day of practice as they prepare for their opening round series with the Boston Bruins, which begins Friday.

The team worked a lot of special teams.

“We knew coming in we were going to grind (Tuesday), do a lot of heavy lifting, then specialty teams today, and we’ll have a little more tempo and special teams (Thursday). But obviously we were given a good opportunity to prepare and we want to be as prepared as we can.”

The Wings originally thought the series with Boston was going to open Thursday.

The Bruins ended the regular season with the third best power play in the league, scoring 21.7 percent of the time.

“Well size, their ability to retrieve pucks,” Babcock said when asked why Boston’s power play is so effective. “Everybody in the National Hockey League, off a faceoff, off a puck put on the wall, off a shot, tries to put as much pressure as they can on you. So the bigger you are, the more you can handle the tight quarters to get the puck out and get the team backed off again. They do that well.”

That will test the Wings’ 12th ranked penalty kill.

“They have a big guy at the net, they can shoot the puck up top and they have good skill, and they have two different looks,” Babcock said. “They have a spread power play in the one group and an overload with (Patrice) Bergeron high in the other so they make it hard for good depth obviously. They score goals so that’s what’s going to make them hard.

“I’m a big believer in our penalty kill, (assistant coach) Bill Peters has done a phenomenal job with our penalty kill all year long and that and the goaltending, we have to shut their power play down,” Babcock continued. “They can’t run, go crazy on the power play for us to have success.”

Everyone that skated Tuesday took part in the skate Wednesday.

Quote of the day II … Wings coach Mike Babcock

DETROIT >> Wings coach Mike Babcock when asked what facets of the game this feels his team is better in than the Boston.

“I think we’re complete,” Babcock said. “I think we’re way better than people think. I think we’re a hard out.”

Quote of the day … Wings coach Mike Babcock

DETROIT >> Wings coach Mike Babcock on what the advantages and disadvantages were to starting the series on Friday after last playing on Sunday.

“I don’t know what the disadvantage could be for our team,” Babcock said. “We needed the time, we need to freshen up some people. We had ground hard to get in. When they were in here they gave guys days off and we couldn’t give anybody days off and the other thing about it is when you’re the lower seed, the more detailed you can be, the better off you can be. And so preparation time has been great for us. Ideally it will be an equalizer and give us an opportunity to really compete.”

NHL Playoff Predictions … Los Angeles will win the Cup in six games over Boston

DETROIT – Breakdown and predictions for the NHL playoffs, which begins Wednesday.

First Round
Eastern Conference
(1) Boston Bruins vs. (WC2) Detroit Red Wings
The Wings were the only team this season to beat the Presidents’ Trophy winning Bruins three times; unfortunately none of those wins carry over to the postseason.
“The reality is you have to play well,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “If you look at it in their shoes they’ve got to believe they’re in the driver’s seat. We believe we’re going to be a tough out so something’s got to give.”
Boston is as physical a team as you’ll find in the NHL that has a solid four lines, great goaltending and a strong defensive core.
“I think we’re actually a harder team than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here,” Babcock said. “I think we have the ability to play heavy. We have some smaller type players that have the ability to be physical. What sets them aside from anyone else is (Milan) Lucic and (Zdeno) Chara. They have them, we don’t. We have a lot of big bodies as well.”
Pick: Bruins in 6.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3) Montreal Canadiens
All four meetings this season between the teams have been very close, three of which were decided after regulation and another didn’t become a two-goal advantage for the Lightning, who won three of the four games, until an empty net goal in the final minute. This series will come down to goaltending and the Canadiens have a decisive edge with Carey Price. But Lightning rookie sensations, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, could help steal a game or two.
Pick: Canadiens in 5.

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (WC1) Columbus Blue Jackets
If Marc-Andre Fleury can shake off his past two postseasons – 4.11 goals-against average and a .857 save percentage in 11 appearances – the Penguins should advance with ease. Pittsburgh won all five meetings with the team, outscoring Columbus 16-7. The Blue Jackets’ only hope is a strong performance from their netminder, Sergei Bobrovsky, who played in just one game against Pittsburgh this season.
Pick: Penguins in 6.

(2) New York Rangers vs. (3) Philadelphia Flyers
It’s all about home-ice advantage in this series and the Rangers have it, winning eight straight at Madison Square Garden over the Flyers. Claude Giroux has really come on strong for Philadelphia ending the season third in the league scoring race after not notching his first goal until 15 games in.
Pick: Rangers in 5.

Western Conference
(1) Colorado vs. (WC1) Minnesota
Patrick Roy’s Avalanche have been quite the story all season long and should breeze into the next round in large part because of the edge in goal with Semyon Varlamov. The Wild’s Ilya Bryzgalov played well down the stretch, but has had his meltdowns in the postseason.
Pick: Avalanche in 5.

(2) St. Louis vs. (3) Chicago
This series had all the makings for a classic. It can still if the Blues, who lost six straight to end the season, get a few of their injured forwards back sometime in the series. The Blackhawks expect to have two of their key injured players back – Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Pick: Blackhawks in 4.

(1) Anaheim vs. (WC2) Dallas
The Ducks’ season ended in the first round a year ago and it could end the same way this year against the offensive-minded Stars. Anaheim has a lot of questions in goal, while Dallas, which has won two of the three meetings this season, has a 33-win Kari Lehtonen between the pipes.
Pick: Stars in 7.

(2) San Jose vs. (3) Los Angeles
Easily could be the best series in the opening round. The teams played a classic series last year with the Kings prevailing in seven games, with five of the games being decided by one goal. Look for more of that this time around.
Pick: Kings in 7.

Second Round
Eastern Conference
Boston over Montreal in 7 games
Pittsburgh over New York Rangers in 7 games

Western Conference
Colorado over Chicago in 6 games
Los Angeles over Dallas in 5 games

Eastern Conference Finals
Boston over Pittsburgh in 5 games

Western Conference Finals
Los Angeles over Colorado in 7 games

Stanley Cup Final
Los Angeles over Boston in 6 games

Griffins boss honored

DETROIT >> Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill was given the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award, which is handed out to the American Hockey League’s outstanding coach each season.

“He’s been amazing,” said defenseman Ryan Sproul, who played his first game with the Wings on Sunday. “I came out of juniors pretty much pure offense and now I’ve turned into more of an all-around player, I feel like. And he’s told me that before, so that’s good to hear and I appreciate everything that he has done.”

Blashill was a Wings assistant for one season before taking over the Griffins job last year, leading them to winning the Calder Cup.

With the amount of injuries in Detroit, Blashill lost a number of his offensive threats including Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan.

Tatar on Chara: “Great guy, but he’s not real friendly on the ice.”

DETROIT >> Tomas Tatar knows hulking Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara like a friend.

But that friendship only goes so far.

“Great guy,” Tatar said. “But he’s not real friendly on the ice.”

Chara has mentored his fellow Slovak since Tatar he was drafted.

“Even maybe before I got drafted I started practicing with big guys back home like Marian Hossa and those guys,” Tatar said. “He helps me and gives me advice all the time. That’s why I think he’s a great leadership example for me. We are friends, but on the ice everybody wants to win and it would be nice to beat him.”

The two played in this past Olympics together as well as the 2012 World Championships.

Tatar however doesn’t train with Chara, 37, in the offseason.

“I would say it’s pretty much impossible to train with Z,” Tatar smiled. “That’s what he does off the ice. He’s doing extremely heavy weights, he’s so big and so heavy, just how he practices. It doesn’t matter how old he is, he does the same thing all the time. It’s pretty unique. Everybody knows that around the league, that’s why he gets so much respect.”

Chara was second on the Bruins in hits this season with 163, but Tatar can’t recall if he’s been on the end of one of them.

“No matter what would happen, even if he hits me, I would never get mad at him off the ice,” Tatar said. “What happens on the ice stays on the ice and we are friends off the ice. I probably will text him when we get to Boston.”

Tatar said he talks to Chara on a regular basis, but has not spoken with him since learning the two will be playing each other in the first round of the playoffs, which begins Friday in Boston.

“Sometimes we notice each other when we’re playing,” Tatar said. “It’s fun to play and challenge my friend. I respect him so much.
Chara is nearly a foot taller than Tatar, 23.

“When he stands on the hash marks in his own zone he’s got one foot on one hash and one foot on the other hash and he can reach to your blue line,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said of Chara. “I’ve coached against him a ton. He’s a good player. As good a player as he is he’s probably a better leader and better person. Those are the guys you build a franchise around.”

Chara is a six-time postseason NHL All-Star and won the Norris Trophy, which is handed out to the league’s top defenseman, in 2009.

“He’s so big out there, but he moves so well for that size,” Niklas Kronwall said. “He’s a really good skater for that size. His stick is ridiculously long. The ice he can cover, I don’t think we’ll see anyone be able to cover that kind of ice surface again. And he just makes the right plays. He’s so effective for them on the power play. He’s got a bomb for a shot. He means a lot to that team. He’s very impressive. I’ve got lots and lots of respect for him.”

Late start to Wings-Bruins series could aid in Zetterberg’s return to the lineup in first round

DETROIT >> The chance of Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg being ready to play in the first round of the playoffs seems highly unlikely.

But having the series begin on Friday leaves a glimmer of hope he could return sometime in the best-of-seven series.

“We were always shooting for Round 2, but we have two extra days now,” Zetterberg said. “If it’s just before that I will be happy. It’s still a ways away. I’m doing well, happy to be back skating here.”

The Wings thought their first round series with Boston was going to start Thursday.

Zetterberg was supposed to skate on Tuesday with the team, but now that’s pushed back to Thursday. He did skate on his own prior to the team taking the ice.

“There are still a lot of things that need to fall in place,” Zetterberg said. “Up until now everything in the rehab has gone good. Now hopefully Thursday I’ll skate a little bit with the team and keep making progress every day.

“I haven’t skated a lot,” Zetterberg said. “This phase, being on the ice more, skate more, being involved more with the team, is going to decide when I come back. It’s impossible to say now if it’s Round 2 or if it’s before. There are a lot of things that need to happen, but so far everything has been good and we just have to keep taking it day by day.”

Zetterberg underwent successful surgery on Feb. 21 in New York to remove part of a disc which was rubbing against a nerve, which caused severe back pain.
Friday marks eight weeks for when Zetterberg can start having contact on the ice.

“You can do a lot of stuff in the gym, you can run, jump, but as soon as you step on the ice and have a pair of skates on and there are other people around you, that’s going to decide a lot,” Zetterberg said. “I’ve been skating by myself for a while, been feeling good and now it’s time to take the next step.”

Asked if he didn’t want to test his back against the hulking Zdeno Chara, Zetterberg said it was the Bruins defenseman that lent him a hand on the flight back from the Olympics.

“Chara was actually the guy that helped me with my bag at the Olympics,” Zetterberg recalled. “So he’s part of this rehab. When we flew home from the Olympics, I was walking out and had a backpack with me and he said you’re not carrying that so he carried it for me. He’s one of the best defensemen in the league and he’s a great guy.”

Zetterberg has been sidelined since the Winter Olympics after playing just one game with Sweden and watched as the Red Wings qualified for the playoffs a 23rd consecutive season without him.

“I’m happy I’m watching them in the playoffs,” Zetterberg said. “There are worse things that I could watch. You want to be playing. Today we had our first playoff meeting. This is the best time of the year. When you go through the regular season this is where you want to be and we’re here now. We’re facing a really good team and we have to play good hockey to move on.”

Despite playing in just 45 of the Wings’ 82 games this season, Zetterberg finished tied for third on the team in points with 48 and led the team with a plus-19.

“I’m very proud, just seeing the guys step up, different guys every night,” Zetterberg said. “It’s amazing we kept the streak going. I don’t think a lot of people believed that going into the Olympic break and definitely not after, but we found a way. That’s what we do.

“In the regular season I tried to stay away as much as I could,” Zetterberg added. “We still have a lot of leaders in this room, core guys that have been around. Now that I’m around, part of the skates and travel with the team and then hopefully be playing later.”

Zetterberg, 33, missed 11 games in December with a slightly herniated disc. He also missed two games in January due to it.

Zetterberg began having issues with his back in 2008, which made him miss the All-Star break.

In 2007, he injured his vertebra and missed several weeks.

Bruins too much for Wings and will take series in six; Canadiens, Penguins, Rangers, Avalanche, Blackhawks, Stars and Kings all advance

DETROIT >> Breakdown and predictions of the first round of the NHL playoffs, which begins Wednesday.

Eastern Conference
(1) Boston Bruins vs. (WC2) Detroit Red Wings
The Wings were the only team this season to beat the Presidents’ Trophy winning Bruins three times; unfortunately none of those wins carry over to the postseason.
“The reality is you have to play well,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “If you look at it in their shoes they’ve got to believe they’re in the driver’s seat. We believe we’re going to be a tough out so something’s got to give.”
Boston is as physical a team as you’ll find in the NHL that has a solid four lines, great goaltending and a strong defensive core.
“I think we’re actually a harder team than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here,” Babcock said. “I think we have the ability to play heavy. We have some smaller type players that have the ability to be physical. What sets them aside from anyone else is (Milan) Lucic and (Zdeno) Chara. They have them, we don’t. We have a lot of big bodies as well.”
Pick: Bruins in 6.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3) Montreal Canadiens
All four meetings this season between the teams have been very close, three of which were decided after regulation and another didn’t become a two-goal advantage for the Lightning, who won three of the four games, until an empty net goal in the final minute. This series will come down to goaltending and the Canadiens have a decisive edge with Carey Price. But Lightning rookie sensations, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, could help steal a game or two.
Pick: Canadiens in 5.

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (WC1) Columbus Blue Jackets
If Marc-Andre Fleury can shake off his past two postseasons – 4.11 goals-against average and a .857 save percentage in 11 appearances – the Penguins should advance with ease. Pittsburgh won all five meetings with the team, outscoring Columbus 16-7. The Blue Jackets’ only hope is a strong performance from their netminder, Sergei Bobrovsky, who played in just one game against Pittsburgh this season.
Pick: Penguins in 6.

(2) New York Rangers vs. (3) Philadelphia Flyers
It’s all about home-ice advantage in this series and the Rangers have it, winning eight straight at Madison Square Garden over the Flyers. Claude Giroux has really come on strong for Philadelphia ending the season third in the league scoring race after not notching his first goal until 15 games in.
Pick: Rangers in 5.

Western Conference
(1) Colorado vs. (WC1) Minnesota

Patrick Roy’s Avalanche have been quite the story all season long and should breeze into the next round in large part because of the edge in goal with Semyon Varlamov. The Wild’s Ilya Bryzgalov played well down the stretch, but has had his meltdowns in the postseason.
Pick: Avalanche in 5.

(2) St. Louis vs. (3) Chicago
This series had all the makings for a classic. It can still if the Blues, who lost six straight to end the season, get a few of their injured forwards back sometime in the series. The Blackhawks expect to have two of their key injured players back – Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Pick: Blackhawks in 4.

(1) Anaheim vs. (WC2) Dallas
The Ducks’ season ended in the first round a year ago and it could end the same way this year against the offensive-minded Stars. Anaheim has a lot of questions in goal, while Dallas, which has won two of the three meetings this season, has a 33-win Kari Lehtonen between the pipes.
Pick: Stars in 7.

(2) San Jose vs. (3) Los Angeles
Easily could be the best series in the opening round. The teams played a classic series last year with the Kings prevailing in seven games, with five of the games being decided by one goal. Look for more of that this time around.
Pick: Kings in 7.

Plan is for Zetterberg to skate with team Thursday; hasn’t ruled out returning in first round

DETROIT >> Quick update from Wings practice at Joe Louis Arena.

Henrik Zetterberg did not skate with the team as originally planned, but did skate on his own prior to the team taking the ice.

Zetterberg now plans to join the team Thursday at practice and will fly to Boston.

“We were always shooting for Round 2, but we have two extra days now,” Zetterberg said. “If it’s just before that I will be happy. It’s still a ways away. I’m doing well, happy to be back skating here.

“I’m happy I’m watching them in the playoffs,” Zetterberg added. “There are worse things that I could watch. You want to be playing. Today we had our first playoff meeting. This is the best time of the year. When you go through the regular this is where you want to be and we’re here now. We’re facing a really good team and we have to play good hockey to move on.”

The Wings thought their first round series with Boston was going to start Thursday instead of Friday.

“There are still a lot of things that need to fall in place,” Zetterberg said. “Up till now everything in the rehab has gone good. Now hopefully Thursday I’ll skate a little bit with the team and keep making progress every day.

“I haven’t skated a lot,” Zetterberg said. “This phase, being on the ice more, skate more, being involved more with the team, is going to decide when I come back. It’s impossible to say now if it’s Round 2 or if it’s before. There are a lot of things that need to happen, but so far everything has been good and we just have to keep taking it day by day.”

Zetterberg underwent successful surgery on Feb. 21 in New York to remove part of a disc which was rubbing against a nerve, which caused severe back pain.

“You can do a lot of stuff in the gym, you can run, jump, but as soon as you step on the ice and have a pair of skates on and there are other people around you, that’s going to decide a lot,” Zetterberg said. “I’ve been skating by myself for a while, been feeling good and now it’s time to take the next step.”

Asked if he didn’t want to test his back against the hulking Zdeno Chara, Zetterberg said he was the Bruins defenseman that lent him a hand on the flight back from the Olympics.

“Chara was actually the guy that helped me with my bag at the Olympics,” Zetterberg recalled. “So he’s part of this rehab. When we flew home from the Olympics, I was walking out and had a backpack with me and he said you’re not carrying that so he carried it for me. He’s one of the best defensemen in the league and he’s a great guy.”

Zetterberg has been sidelined since the Winter Olympics after playing just one game with Sweden.

Despite playing in just 45 of the Wings’ 82 games this season, Zetterberg finished tied for third on the team in points with 48 and led the team with a plus-19.

“I’m very proud, just seeing the guys step up, different guys every night,” Zetterberg said. “It’s amazing we kept the streak going. I don’t think a lot of people believed that going into the Olympic break and definitely not after, but we found a way. That’s what we do.

“In the regular season I tried to stay away as much as I could,” Zetterberg added. “We still have a lot of leaders in this room, core guys that have been around. Now that I’m around, part of the skates and travel with the team and then hopefully be playing later.”

Zetterberg, 33, missed 11 games in December with a slightly herniated disc. He also missed two games in January due to it.

Zetterberg began having issues with his back in 2008, which made him miss the All-Star break.
In 2007, he injured his vertebra and missed several weeks.

Wings ready to welcome Zetterberg back to practice on Tuesday

DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings are getting healthy at the right time.

And the injury update hopes to get even better after practice Tuesday.

Henrik Zetterberg will be on the ice at the start of practice Tuesday as the Wings prepare for their opening round series with the Boston Bruins, which begins Friday.

“I don’t know if he’ll be in a full practice, but he’ll be on the ice at the start of it, be on for a little bit then get off,” Holland said in a phone interview Monday. “Then we’ll see how he is Wednesday.”

Zetterberg underwent successful surgery on Feb. 21 in New York to remove part of a disc which was rubbing against a nerve, which caused severe back pain.

“It’s eight weeks on Friday,” Holland said. “He skated on his own a little bit last week. It’s just the next step along the lines of rehabilitation. The time frame is we need another week before we can have any discussions where he’s at.

“It’s good news he’s going to skate with the team (Tuesday), but the bigger news is how does he feel on Wednesday,” Holland continued. “Then, if feels good enough to skate on Wednesday then the next bigger news will be how does he feel to skate on Thursday?”

Holland has ruled Zetterberg out for the first two games in the series, which takes place Friday and Sunday in Boston.

“He might be out for the entire first round series,” Holland said. “We have said going back six or seven weeks that after eight weeks that he will be given the green light to have physical contact. It’s good news to hear that he’s going to skate tomorrow for a little bit and then we’re anxious to see how his back responds on Wednesday.”

Zetterberg has been sidelined since the Winter Olympics after playing just one game with Sweden.

Despite playing in just 45 of the Wings’ 82 games this season, Zetterberg finished tied for third on the team in points with 48 and led the team with a plus-19.

“I want to play hockey again this year,” Zetterberg said in his only meeting with the media since surgery back on March 26. “Whenever we’re in the playoffs it’s the best time of the year.”

Zetterberg, 33, missed 11 games in December with a slightly herniated disc. He also missed two games in January due to it.

Zetterberg began having issues with his back in 2008, which made him miss the All-Star break.

In 2007, he injured his vertebra and missed several weeks.