Todd Bertuzzi’s chances at returning this season seemed quite dismal when he suffered a back injury on Feb. 7 at St. Louis.
But after nearly three long months of rehab, shots and any other remedies anyone could think up, Bertuzzi made his return to the lineup for Game 2 of the Detroit Red Wings Western Conference quarterfinal series with the Anaheim Ducks.
“The one thing I’ve got going for me is that it’s not my first year,” Bertuzzi said before the game. “I’ve been around a bit. I understand the game and I understand the playoff game.”
Bertuzzi replaced Jordin Tootoo in the lineup and played on the fourth line with Cory Emmerton and Patrick Eaves.
“I don’t really care where I’m playing,” Bertuzzi said. “I’m in the lineup, putting on the jersey. I’ll do everything I can to help these guys out. If that entails six minutes, 10 minutes, whatever it is. I’ve just got to do the best I can out there.
“It’s gotten better,” Bertuzzi added. “It’s been a long time coming. A lot of things that I thought were getting better kept on getting worse. I’m at a point now where I’m comfortable and I’m excited to play.”
Bertuzzi’s back started to hurt after the first few games of the season.
He tweaked his back in the game in St. Louis and by the third period he lost all feeling in his right leg.
He had no strength in his right leg and things got progressively worse when he got back home and spent four days in the hospital because of the pain.
Then it was two straight weeks of getting needles and resting.
“Who has the puck after he has it,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said when asked how he’ll know Bertuzzi is back to being himself. “That’s the game. That’s soccer, that’s basketball, that’s football. If you give the puck up, did you do it in a controlled manner? You go watch 10-year-old girls’ soccer, after they have it does someone else have it? Usually, it’s ping pong. We don’t want to play ping pong.”
Babcock wanted to insert Bertuzzi back in the lineup with three games left in the regular season, but the rugged forward felt he needed another hard skate before clearing himself to return.
“I tried to get him to play against LA and he couldn’t play, so then the guys played good, so he couldn’t play,” Babcock said.
After beating the Kings for a second straight win, the Wings ended the regular season with two more wins to reach the playoffs for a 22nd consecutive season.
“We’re really excited to have him back in the lineup,” Eaves said. “He’s worked his butt off to get back in shape with this injury.
“He’s a huge man who can play that style of game and he has a high-end skill set too,” Eaves added. “He’s very dynamic and we’re very fortunate to have him on our team.”
Bertuzzi has played just seven games this season, registering two goals and one assist.
“He’s a huge guy, he protects the puck well and he’s got great skill,” Emmerton said. “I think he plays extremely heavy on the puck and he’s hard to get the puck away from. So he’s going to make it hard for them, on their (defense). Pretty much I’m just going to try to get the puck down low to him and let him go to work.”
Emmerton said he has never played on a line with Bertuzzi, except for three-on-three games.
“I don’t think he passed me the puck ever,” Emmerton said. “He’s played a lot of years. He’s been a great player for a long time. The biggest thing he brings is he’s such an imposing presence on the ice, makes it difficult for the other team’s D and he plays hard. He’ll definitely help. He’ll be kind of a different look for us.”