ROMULUS, Mich. – Following a four-hour flight from Southern California on Thursday afternoon, Justin Abdelkader may have been the happiest guy to step off of a Red Bird III at Detroit Metro Airport.
The Red Wings’ forward was relegated to spectator-status for the last two games of the Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Anaheim Ducks. Abdelkader sat out Games 4 and 5 after he was suspended by the league for his illegal hit to the head of Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman in Game 3 at Joe Louis Arena.
Lydman still hasn’t returned to the Ducks’ lineup since the injury occurred last Saturday.
“Yeah, it’s tough, really tough, especially how tight both games were with a couple of overtime games,” said Abdelkader, when asked about watching from the press box. “It’s more nerve-racking to watch than playing, that’s for sure.”
Abdelkader will be back in the Red Wings' lineup when they host the Ducks in Game 6 on Friday night at The Joe.
Abdelkader hast been a contributing force for the Red Wings on their top forward line with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Fortunately, Mikael Samuelsson filled in quite admirably on the line in Abdelkader’s absence. Samuelsson even scored his first playoff goal since 2011 when he ripped home a rebound in the second period of the Red Wings’ 3-2 overtime loss in Game 5.
Though Samuelsson worked out fine on the top line, coach Mike Babcock is glad to have Abdelkader back where he belongs. But with Abdelkader returning, someone will need to come out, and that likely will be Todd Bertuzzi, who has given the fourth line some energy over the last two games, or Samuelsson.
“He’s a big, physical presence,” Babcock said, referring to Samuelsson. “I think he makes Z and Pav better so that’ll help them. Obviously, someone has to come out of the lineup and we’ll figure that out here.”
Abdelkader is anxious to get back in the lineup to help the Red Wings stretch this series to a Game 7 back in Anaheim on Sunday.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” he said. “Hopefully I can come in and inject some energy into the lineup and help us get a win.”
Asked if the suspension will make him play with less of a physical edge, Abdelkader said he didn’t think so. But he’ll be more cautious.
“I don’t think I have a history of making dirty plays and dirty hits. 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.”
As for the Red Wings, they’re only concerned about winning the next game.
“We have to win a game. That’s where we’re at and that’s what we’re going to think about,” Babcock said. “We’ll take the rest of the day off, come back tomorrow, get prepared to get back at it.
“There’s nothing we can do about any of the stuff that’s happened, we have a game tomorrow and we’ll be ready to go. I’m going to spend the rest of the day and tomorrow thinking about our lineup to give ourselves our best chance to win.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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