Wings’ Babcock unclear if Zetterberg can return

Mike Babcock joined HC@Noon to talk about his Detroit Red Wings making the playoffs for the 23rd-consecutive season, and how they did it without Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, and Henrik Zetterberg for much of the season.

Mike Babcock doesn’t expect the Detroit Red Wings to have forward Henrik Zetterberg in the lineup at the start of the playoffs.

“I don’t know if Zetterberg is even in the picture or not, but the rest of the guys are feeling good,” the Red Wings coach said Thursday on Hockey Central at Noon. “(Defenceman Jonathan) Ericsson won’t play either. Obviously, that’s a big blow for us.”

Zetterberg has not played since after undergoing back surgery on Feb. 21. He played one game at the Sochi Olympics for Sweden before the back pain began to linger again. The 33-year-old, who has 16 goals and 32 assists in 45 games this season, has publicly said he hopes to return during the post-season.

With Zetterberg injured, the Red Wings have relied on breakout forward Gustav Nyquist to carry the load on offence.

“He’s got a hockey IQ off the charts,” Babcock said. “He’s brilliant with the puck. He creates space. He’s learned how to really shoot the puck. He’s one of these kids that’s going to get better every day because he’s worked that hard and he loves it that much.”

Babcock also pointed out that the only reason Nyquist started the season in the AHL with Grand Rapids was because the Red Wings had salary cap issues.

Nyquist has 13 goals and eight assists in his last 20 games.

Another Red Wings player that Babcock credited for the team’s surprising performance this season has been been backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.

“He has been a huge part,” Babcock said of the Monster. “If (only) he could ever stay healthy. He’s found a way to win games for us. We needed him this year because (Jimmy Howard) didn’t have his A game early and was injured as well. We wouldn’t be in the playoffs without him. Every year there’s special reasons we get in, and he’s one of them.”

After clinching a playoff spot for the 23rd consecutive season, the Red Wings will face off against the Boston Bruins or the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round – depending on where they finish in the wild card standings.

“We got a pretty good hockey club,” he said. “We work hard and we’re detail-oriented. If we get goaltending, we’ll be a tough out.”