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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.

Ouellet and Sproul staying with team at least through Thursday

DETROIT >> Rookie defensemen Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul will remain with the team until at least Thursday according to Wings general manager.

“They’re going to stay here the next three days so that they know our system so that they’re involved in all our preparations on Boston and the Boston series,” Holland said in a phone interview Monday. “Then, in all likelihood they’re probably going back. But if we have an injured defenseman and we need to call one up they know what we’re doing.”

Both played in Sunday’s 3-0 win over St. Louis.

Sproul logged 18:25 of ice time, 3:25 came on the power play. He had three shots on goal, blocked two shots and had two hits, one of which was a crushing blow against the boards on the Blues’ Derek Roy.

“He’s 6-foot-4, he can skate, he shoots BBs and he’s smart and he moves the puck,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said after the game. “Ouellet makes the right play each and every time. They’re good.”

Ouellet skated 16:21, 2:09 came on the penalty kill. He had one shot and one hit.

Sproul, a right-handed shot, become the ninth player to make his NHL debut for the Wings this season.

It was Ouellet’s fourth game with the Wings this season.

Zetterberg set to skate with team Tuesday, but ruled out for Games 1 and 2; Ericsson likely out first round

DETROIT >> Quick update from a phone interview with Wings general manager Ken Holland.

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. “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 line or rehabilitation. The timeframe 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 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.”

Jonathan Ericsson is likely out for the first round of the playoffs.

“I think he’s done for the first round of the playoffs, but I don’t know,” Holland said.

Ericsson had successful surgery to stabilize his fractured finger and repair a partially torn tendon on March 19.

Wings get Boston in first round of playoffs; series opens Thursday with Game 2 on Saturday

DETROIT >> Sunday afternoon’s game between the Wings and St. Louis Blues has a ton of meaning for one team and has little to no meaning for another.

The Blues need a win to at least jump ahead of Colorado for the second seed in the Western Conference and thus avoid opening up against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Avalanche play late Sunday night.

St. Louis could also still garnish the top seed if Anaheim fails to earn a point over its final two games, one of which was played late Saturday night.

Because of Columbus’ 3-2 win over Florida Saturday night and Philadelphia’s win over Pittsburgh, Detroit can’t climb any higher than the second wild card spot and thus will face the Boston Bruins, who will finish with the best record in the league after topping Buffalo on Saturday.

“Just play well,” Jimmy Howard said when asked what the team’s approach would be to the regular season finale in St. Louis. “You want to feel good about yourself going into the playoffs. It’s as simple as that.”

Had the Wings gotten the top wild card spot they would have played Pittsburgh.

“It shouldn’t be,” Niklas Kronwall said when asked if it’s hard to perhaps overlook this game. “We’ve got some things we need to work on so this would be a good time to do it.”

The Wings could have been a step closer to assuring them the top wild spot if it wasn’t for their loss Friday to the lowly Carolina Hurricanes, 2-1.

“I don’t think we played bad by any means,” Howard said. “It was one of those things where we’ve been playing playoff hockey for almost two months and we finally got a place in the playoffs and took our foot off the gas a little bit. You could see it out there.”

Detroit is 3-1-0 this season against the Bruins.

The series will begin Thursday with game two taking place Saturday. Games three and four will be April 21 and 23 at Joe Louis Arena. Times will be announced later.

“There are lots of challenges,” Brendan Smith said of the Wings’ first round opponent. “They have scoring, they have physicality, they have puck-moving (players), they have arguably one of the best goalies and they have the makeup for a Stanley Cup team.

“So does everybody else but they might have it more than any other team because of their physicality that is stronger than other teams,” Smith continued. “The only other team I might compare them to is St. Louis. So it’s going to be a challenge for us.

Boston, which also has one game left in the regular season, has 117 points, while Detroit has 91.

“We’ve played them well, we play a system that does well against Boston and it’s something that we have to stick to,” Smith said. “If we get away from that or get hindered in any sense, then we’ll struggle. We have to play our system and play them hard. I think the biggest thing for us is puck-possession, no turnovers. That’s a big thing because they will put the puck in the back of our net. You look at their top two lines with (David) Krejci’s line and (Patrice) Bergeron’s line and it’s 1A and 1B situation and we have to be able to shut them down.”

Wings recall Ouellet and Sproul

DETROIT >> The Wings have recalled defensemen Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul from Grand Rapids.

If Detroit can’t improve on it’s playoff positioning expect both to play in the regular season finale Sunday afternoon in St. Louis.

Here’s the press release:

Ouellet, 20, has appeared in 68 games with the Griffins this season, recording 16 points (4-12-16), 22 penalty minutes and a plus-three rating. The native of Bayonne, France, also appeared in three games with the Red Wings this season, registering three shots on goal and averaging 13:58 of ice time after making his NHL debut on Oct. 21 versus San Jose. Originally drafted by Detroit in the second round (48th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Ouellet skated in 223 QMJHL games with the Montreal Juniors and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada prior to turning professional, tallying 160 points (41-119-160) and 177 penalty minutes. The 6-foot, 200-lb., blueliner was also named to the QMJHL First All-Star Team and represented Canada at the 2013 World Junior Championships last season.

Sproul could become the ninth player to make his NHL debut for the Red Wings if he plays in Detroit’s season finale tomorrow against the St. Louis Blues at 12:30 p.m. (NBC/AM 1270). The 21-year-old defenseman has tallied 31 points (10-21-31) in 71 games with Grand Rapids this season and was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team earlier this week. He is second among Griffins defensemen in scoring and ranks third among AHL rookie defensemen overall. Prior to turning pro, the 6-foot-4, 205-lb., blueliner racked up 153 points (57-96-153) in 172 games with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds from 2010-13. In 2012-13, he won the OHL’s Max Kaminsky Trophy as the league’s most outstanding defenseman and was named the CHL Defenseman of the Year.

Banged up Blues

DETROIT >> St. Louis has gotten hit with a long list of injured forwards, all of which most likely won’t play in Sunday afternoon’s regular season finale against the Wings.

According to the Post Dispatch the Blues are missing seven regular forwards: David Backes (foot), T.J. Oshie (upper body), Patrik Berglund (upper body), Vladimir Tarasenko (hand), Brenden Morrow (foot), Derek Roy (upper body) and Vladimir Sobotka (lower body).