DETROIT — The waiting ended just a few minutes before the national anthem. When the Detroit Red Wings announced their scratches against the Boston Bruins, Henrik Zetterberg was not among them.
Designated a game-time decision Thursday morning, the center was among Detroit’s listed players available in Game 4 of Detroit’s best-of-seven, first-round Eastern Conference series at Joe Louis Arena.
Less than two minutes into the game, Zetterberg made his postseason debut.
Zetterberg, Detroit’s captain, returned after missing more than two months of the season and the first three playoff games with a back injury sustained during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
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Zetterberg underwent surgery Feb. 21 in New York. He has not played for the Red Wings since before the Olympic break. Zetterberg has 16 goals and 32 assists in 45 games.
The Hockey News, citing a source, reported Thursday that Zetterberg would make his playoff debut in Game 4; Zetterberg practiced the past two mornings with the Red Wings, then met Thursday afternoon with doctors.
Zetterberg did not address the media following Thursday’s morning skate.
“[Zetterberg] told me he’s going to the doctor, but because we were talking about it, I put him on a line and on the power play,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “The doctors decide, not me. I’m hopeful.”
Asked what Zetterberg’s return could mean for the Red Wings, Babcock spoke hypothetically.
“You can expect him to provide great leadership,” Babcock said. “But he’s pretty competitive. he’s been working at it. With back surgery, they don’t let you come back early. The doctors and him have a plan.”
CHANGES: Zetterberg wasn’t the only new face in the lineup for the Red Wings.
Just prior to the game, it was announced that goalie Jimmy Howard would not start in goal because of the flu, and Jonas Gustavsson replaced Howard, earning his first career playoff start. Right wing Todd Bertuzzi was put into the lineup in place of Tomas Jurco.
Babcock also said that Daniel Alfredsson (back) should be ready for Saturday’s Game 5.
ALL APOLOGIES: Niklas Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk were excused from Wednesday’s practice on the basis of paternity leave.
Datsyuk’s wife delivered a girl on Wednesday, while Kronwall’s girlfriend delivered a boy on Thursday morning.
Babcock commented on the absences the previous morning.
“I would assume they’re both playing [Thursday],” Babcock said. “They’re not giving birth. Their wives are.”
Before taking questions Thursday in a news conference, Babcock apologized for that statement.
“I got an email from my wife that said I’m not allowed to say the things I said about giving birth, so I apologize in advance,” he said.
“I didn’t know guys were so sensitive about that. ‘Talk to me first,’ she said. You need someone to keep you accountable.”