DETROIT – Coach Mike Babcock was ready to insert Todd Bertuzzi in the Red Wings’ lineup against the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings tonight.
But the veteran forward, who has sat out with a chronically sore lower back since Feb. 7, needed one more good practice, he said.
“I’ll be ready to play tomorrow,” Bertuzzi declared. “I needed another hard skate. Like I said before, a week ago, I can’t come in and not be ready to play a full 60 (minutes) and help out, contribute, be big down low, finish my checks. I needed another hard skate and that’s what we just finished.”
The Red Wings are in the thick of a playoff race, battling Columbus, Dallas and Phoenix for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Everyone in the Wings’ locker room understands the situation, but they also know what a vocal veteran like Bertuzzi can bring to a young team.
“Bert has been a huge loss for us. I can name so many different reasons,” forward Daniel Cleary said. “First thing he's going to bring is another voice in the locker room for us. He brings experience and calmness on the bench and then you factor in his play and his size, and obviously, he hasn't played the whole season, so it's going to take some time, to be fair, but … and his shootout prowess. Hopefully, we don't get to that point, but you never know.”
Over the previous three seasons, Bertuzzi has added a new dimension to his game, becoming one of the league’s better skaters in the shootout. In that time he ranks second on the team by making 44 percent of his shootout chances, including a team-best seven game-deciding goals. Pavel Datsyuk is first at 48.3 percent.
But Betuzzi is more concerned with what he’s capable of doing during regulation, which is why he chose not to play tonight. He remained on the ice after the morning skate where he worked more with associate coach Tom Renney and the other guys who won’t play tonight.
“I really wanted to play today,” he said. “But I needed to skate hard with Tom there in the end. I needed to do one-on-one drills with the defenseman. I needed to get some pushing and shoving down low. I needed to get crosschecked in the back. I needed to be able to spin off and needed to be able to stop and start and take off with the puck. … The last thing I wanted to do was for them to take a fresh guy out and have me play one period because something didn’t go right.”
Bertuzzi will likely play Thursday’s regular-season home finale when the Red Wings host the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena.
“It’s just getting up to speed. You haven’t been in and suddenly you want to get in,” Babcock said. “But as soon as he’s comfortable mentally and physically then we can try and get him in the lineup.”
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