ROMULUS – The Detroit Red Wings’ top line has been missing a certain element these last two games.
That component returns Friday night.
Forward Justin Abdelkader returns from his two-game suspension for Game 6 of the Wings’ Western Conference quarterfinal series with the Anaheim Ducks.
“It’s huge for us,” said Detroit coach Mike Babcock, whose team trails the best-of-seven series 3-2. “He’s a big, physical presence. I think he makes (Henrik Zetterberg) and (Pavel Datsyuk) better so that’ll help them. Obviously, someone has to come out of the lineup and we’ll figure that out here.”
Abdelkader was handed a two-game suspension after a hit on Anaheim defenseman Toni Lydman late in the second period of Game 3.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” Abdelkader said after getting off the team plane Thursday. “The guys won a big game back here, you know, in Game 4, and unfortunately it didn’t go the way we wanted in Game 5, losing in overtime. But hopefully I can come in and inject some energy into the lineup and help us get a win.
“It’s tough, really tough (to watch), especially how tight both games were with a couple of overtime games,” Abdelkader added. “It’s more nerve-wrecking to watch than playing, that’s for sure.”
The Wings tried a number of combinations to play alongside Zetterberg and Datsyuk on the top line, but none of them could duplicate Abdelkader’s physical style, his forechecking, his net-front presence and his ability to retrieve pucks for linemates.
“It’s been tough on him,” defenseman Brendan Smith said. “He’s a very competitive guy that wants to be in the lineup. He’s a close buddy of mine so I see him a lot at the breakfasts and lunches and he has had the itch like he’s ready to get back in the lineup. We’re excited to have him back. He’s a big force for us and a great presence in the room. He’s going to come in firing because he has that itch going.”
Lydman has missed the last two games because he’s experiencing headaches.
“I don’t think I have a history of making dirty plays and dirty hits,” Abdelkader said. “I just play my same game and obviously if a hit like that presents itself I just have to be smarter about it and target a little lower.”
In the second period on Wednesday, forward Daniel Cleary was slammed into the boards from behind by Anaheim’s Daniel Winnik. Winnik was assessed a five-minute major for boarding, but not a game misconduct.
Cleary left after the hit, shaken up and in severe pain, but did return for the start of the third period.
The league did not discipline Winnik for the hit.
“I think if (the refs) see the guy is injured than it’s definitely going to raise some red flags,” Abdelkader continued. “If Cleary would have gotten up right away it would have been a two-minute penalty, but he was hurt on the play so it’s five minutes. Yeah, they’re calling them tight and trying to protect players, which is a good thing.”
Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said Thursday he wasn’t worried about Winnik getting suspended.
“It means they’re a better team,” Boudreau said of the Wings getting Abdelkader back. “He’s played very well for them, especially against us. They’re going to be a better team and a harder foe than they’ve been before.
“We wish we had Toni,” Boudreau added. “He’s not on the trip and he hasn’t skated since he got hit. Whether it’s (Game 6) or Sunday, I got to believe it would be hard for him to get back in the lineup.”
Cleary’s status for Friday won’t be known until after the morning skate.
“It’s great to good now, but we’ll see in the morning,” Babcock said.