By Michael Caples –
ROMULUS – Justin Abdelkader said he just wanted to “help the team” again.
After serving out his two-game suspension for Games 4 and 5 of the Red Wings’ first-round series against Anaheim, the Muskegon native returned in time to play a crucial role in Games 6 and 7.
And now, he and the Red Wings are moving on to the second round, for a date with their old friends from Chicago.
Abdelkader returned from his suspension (a result of a charging major and game misconduct for his hit on Toni Lydman in Game 3), to lead his team in hits and set up Dan Cleary’s goal in Game 6. The goal was originally credited to Abdelkader, but was changed to Cleary’s after the conclusion of the Wings’ 4-3 overtime victory.
Then, in Game 7, he scored the Wings’ second goal, after knocking down a pass and racing down the ice for a breakaway goal, all while shorthanded.
“Yeah, you know, I just wanted to go out and help the team,” Abdelkader said. “I felt bad about the suspension, about missing two games, and felt like I could really energize the team and spark the team in Game 6, and then in Game 7 too. I felt good, I just wanted to go out there and do my part.”
Abdelkader said he didn’t have any problems returning to his usual physical style of play, despite the rather large penalty for his Game 3 check.
“Not really, no, I think you just have to be smart about it,” Abdelkader said. “I’m not a dirty player, so I’m not going out there trying to hurt guys or hit guys high or whatever it is. Just go out and play my game.”
Now, Abdelkader and the Wings’ focus shifts to Chicago, a team they failed to beat in four tries over the course of the regular season. Detroit lost twice in a shootout, once in overtime, and once in a lopsided 7-1 affair at Joe Louis Arena on March 31. Yet Abdelkader says the Wings are a different team than they were earlier in the year.
“I think all of the games have been pretty tight, just besides the 7-1 game,” the former Michigan State Spartan said. “I think we’ve grown as a team and grown as a group, and we’re a different team than we were even a month ago, so getting better as the days go by, and hopefully we can keep it going here.”
And he’s certainly excited for what an Original Six showdown atmosphere will bring.
“I think it’s great for the league,” Abdelkader said. “Any time you can have an Original Six match-ups and Original Six teams in the playoffs, I think it’s great, and we’re looking forward to playing Chicago here in the playoffs one last time before we move conferences.”