Brendan Smith: “But to get Z back is like getting an ace in your deck when you’re playing cards.”

DETROIT >> It’s still not official, but all signs point to Henrik Zetterberg returning to the Detroit Red Wings lineup Thursday night against the Boston Bruins.

Wings officials said Zetterberg was on his way to see his doctor and would not be able to speak to the media about his status for Game 4 of the Wings’ Eastern Conference best-of-seven opening round series with the Bruins.

But many of his teammates talked like they would have their captain back in the lineup.

“The fans are definitely going to erupt,” Brendan Smith said Thursday. “They should. I erupt when I see him on the ice, imagine what the fans will be like. He’s a fan favorite. He’s well spoken. He’s humble. He’s one of the best players. It’s going to be cool and good for everybody. We have to channel it in the right direction and towards the game.

“You saw what last year’s playoffs were like with him, so I suspect it will be very similar,” Smith added. “He’s one of the guys we feed off of, he’s a leader, he’s our captain and he does everything right and he plays both ends of the ice. Obviously if we can get him back it will be huge for our squad. It would be awesome. We’ve done well without him and I think the biggest thing for us right now is for us to play our system and that will help us out a lot more. But to get Z back is like getting an ace in your deck when you’re playing cards. Anytime you get your captain back it’s a huge bonus.”

“He’s a competitor,” Darren Helm said. “He’s going to come out with a performance that can hopefully spark this team.

“Everybody’s kind of feeling that excitement, too,” Helm continued. “He’s been out for a while, you can tell he’s extremely happy to be back, we’re all extremely happy that he has a chance to play tonight. It’ll be great if he gets a chance to play.”

Zetterberg began skating with the team last Thursday after undergoing successful surgery on Feb. 21 to remove part of a disc which was rubbing against a nerve, which caused severe back pain.

Zetterberg took the morning skate and was on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Justin Abdelkader.

“He looked great, he’s been looking really good for the last little and it would be huge boost getting our captain back, kind of unexpectedly,” Abdelkader said. “Hopefully, he’s ready to go, but we’ll have to find out.”

He never ruled out the possibility of returning in the first round of the playoffs, but the target always seemed to be the second round. The Wings trail Boston in the series 2-1.

“He’s been feeling good, I think he’s kind of raring to go, it’s just when he gets the clearance,” Abdelkader said. “He’s excited.”

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

“I asked him this morning he said he was going to the doctor,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “But because we were even talking about it I put him on a line, I put him on the power play, and the doctors decide not me. So I’m hopeful. We’ll know at game time after warm-ups.”

He was on the first power play unit with Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Todd Bertuzzi, who’ll be making his playoff debut, and Niklas Kronwall.

“I think he’s overshadowed me a little bit,” smiled Bertuzzi, who’s replacing Tomas Jurco in the lineup. “Listen, Z’s captain for a reason. He carries the torch around here and he leads by example. Obviously, the guys have done a great job while he’s been out but at the same time it’s a huge hole when he’s not in the lineup. I think the power play is going to be that much more effective and we’ll be tougher to play against.”

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

“Z would be a huge impact for us and maybe he’s the guy who can bring more offense to the team and spread the lines out a little bit more,” Tomas Tatar said. “I would be really excited to have him back.

“When you’re injured, you’re practicing hard, you’re trying to get ready, you’re in the gym, you do lots of stuff to make sure you’re ready when you get back,” Tatar continued. “I know the start can be rough, but at the same time, you can start really hot, too. You’ve just got to go with the wave. It all depends on how the game will go. You can’t expect one game to change the whole game, but it the teammates are helping, it’s a start.”

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.


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