VANCOUVER – It’s not a role that Todd Bertuzzi enjoys, in fact, he’d rather not discuss it.
But for the time being the Red Wings’ veteran forward – who has missed nearly 2 ½ months with a degenerative disc in his lower back – is playing along.
“Just got to work hard and cheer the guys on,” Bertuzzi said. “Pretty confident in the guys. The guys will get the job done.”
Since the disc flamed up on Feb. 7 in a game at St. Louis, Bertuzzi has experienced the common ups and downs associated with the injury, which often results in a pinched nerve causing chronic pain in the lower extremities. Bertuzzi’s pain has been localized to the front of the right thigh.
He has visited with orthopedic spine specialists in Detroit and Toronto. But while he’s managed to avoid surgery for the disc herniation, the healing process for an inflamed nerve is lengthy and frustrating.
“I still feel like I can contribute, help out this team, just whichever way it is,” said Bertuzzi, who more than a month ago needed a cane to walk. “I think that’s the frustrating part, I felt so good at training camp and I was healthy, in great shape and this (stuff) happened.”
Bertuzzi missed the first three games of the season with flu-like symptoms, which were first misdiagnosed as mononucleosis that would have kept him out of the lineup for weeks rather than days. Once over his illness, he bounced back to score two goals and three points in seven games before the degenerative disc sidelined him for the next 34 games, including Saturday’s contest against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.
Bertuzzi would like to get back into the lineup this season. But with four games left in the Red Wings’ fight to extend their streak of 21 consecutive seasons in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Bertuzzi doesn’t want to be a detriment either.
“You don’t want to come in and disrupt, you want to make sure that you’re actually ready to go,” Bertuzzi said. “You don’t want to be a hitch, so I have to make sure that I’m more than ready, because we have a lot of healthy bodies. The team is bigger than the individual, so we’ll see what happens.”
The back pain is under control, but the atrophy to the upper right leg hasn’t returned to full strength. And while he’d like to return this next week, Bertuzzi was non-committal when asked by reporters.
“It’s better than what it was. It’s about 70 percent or something like that, so we’ll see,” he said. “I’ll go back to Detroit and see the doctor again and then hopefully (return) in the next couple.”
CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: News that the Grand Rapids Griffins clinching a division championship on Friday night made their leading scorer very happy – though he hasn’t been with them for the last four weeks.
“They’ve done a great job since they’ve been losing guys ever since the lockout ended, up and down, different guys,” said Gustav Nyquist, who has been with the Red Wings since March 20. “Everyone has done a great job down there and it’s a great thing to win your division.”
Nyquist last played an AHL game on March 19, but continues to lead the Griffins in a number of offensive categories, including points (60), assists (37), power-play goals (9), and power-play points (25).
By winning the division, Grand Rapids is assured of entering the AHL playoffs as either the No. 3 or No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. And Nyquist thinks his Griffins’ teammates have a pretty good change of bringing home the Calder Cup.
“That league is just like here where anyone can beat anyone,” he said. “I do think we have a great team down there, and think they can go the whole way. They have a great team going on down there and I’m hoping to see a big run for them.”
The division championship is more remarkable considering the number of injuries that the organization had at the NHL level since the lockout was lifted in January. The Red Wings have had the Griffins on speed-dial, calling up such young talent as Tomas Tatar, Petr Mrazek, Joakim Andersson, and Riley Sheahan.
It was a tough start to the season for the Griffins, who are under the leadership of first-year AHL coach Jeff Blashill, who was an associate on the Red Wings’ coaching staff in 2011-12. Though the Griffins began the season with a 1-3-2 mark, Nyquist credits Blashill’s mentoring skills for the team’s improvement.
“Blashill’s done an outstanding job with us young guys,” Nyquist said. “We were a young team coming in and we didn’t start the season off very good. … But he’s had us working hard every day with the small details and we’ve obviously improved a lot.
“It speaks to some of the leadership down there too. We have great veterans down there who have helped teach the younger guys how to be professionals and I think it’s just a combination of good team spirit, leadership and good coaching.”
The AHL playoffs begin on Monday.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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