May 28, 2009

The Detroit Red Wings' chances to challenge Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin improved greatly the day before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals when their battered blue line got good news.

Six-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom said Friday he will play in the series opener after missing two games with a lower-body injury and Detroit coach Mike Babcock declared another defenseman, Jonathan Ericsson, fit to play.

Ericsson, though, wasn't 100 percent sure.

The rookie can be cut slack about playing just three days after his appendix was removed.

Surgery was suddenly necessary after abdominal pains limited him to 10 minutes during the morning skate before Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

Ericsson has two fresh scars on the left side of his stomach, one in his belly button and lingering doubts about his status for the series opener.

"I'll see how I feel after the morning skate," he said. "It's mostly my decision."

When told Babcock said during a news conference Ericsson would play, it sounded like the Swede was ready to do what was necessary to play.

"It's a matter of pain," Ericsson said. "A few shots, maybe I'll be fine."

Pavel Datsyuk, who has missed three games with an injured foot, said he won't know if he can play until Saturday morning.

"I feel much better and more comfortable," he said. "But I have to wait to see how I feel after I skate."

Kris Draper (lower-body injury) skated Friday and said even if he feels healthy enough to play, the decision to put him in the lineup isn't up to him.

The defending champion Red Wings will lean heavily on Lidstrom against Crosby and Malkin, both of whom are leading the NHL with 28 points each in the playoffs.

Lidstrom is a six-time winner of the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's top defenseman, and a finalist to win it again this summer.

Detroit would also get a boost from Datsyuk, a finalist for league MVP and best defensive forward honors, and four-time Cup winner Draper. But the Red Wings definitely don't want to rush back Datsyuk because his injury was serious enough to keep him out of most of the previous round.

Lidstrom missed the last two games after playing in the first 228 playoff games of his career, dating to his postseason debut in 1992 against the Minnesota North Stars.

His teammates found out their captain wasn't playing at various times on the day of Game 4 against Chicago, and weren't sure how to react to missing their durable superstar.

"Certain guys found out at different times whether at pre-meal or the cab or at the rink when they got there," goaltender Chris Osgood recalled. "We never talked about it in the dressing room. Nobody even mentioned his name. It's kind of like if a pitcher's throwing a no hitter, nobody goes near him. "

From a dressing room in Chicago and one in Detroit, Lidstrom was relegated to rooting for his teammates as they routed the Blackhawks on the road and beat them in overtime at home.

"It was very tough to sit and watch," Lidstrom said.

Osgood is relieved to know Lidstrom won't be helplessly watching Detroit try to slow down Crosby and Malkin.

"For Nick to be back in Game 1 is huge," Osgood said. "It's going to help us on our power play obviously, but Nick defensively is one of a kind.

"He's one of those guys that can shut down other team's star players on his own."

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