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Red Wings’ Henrik Zetterberg a game-time decision for Game 4

Detroit Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg celebrates his goal against the Montreal Canadiens in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, in Detroit.

Paul Sancya/AP

When Henrik Zetterberg aggravated a back injury at the Olympics, Zdeno Chara was there to lend a helping hand.

As the two captains of their national and NHL teams left Sochi, Zetterberg went to reach for his backpack only to be told by Chara that he wouldn't let him carry it. Zetterberg recently called Chara part of his rehab.

"He was obviously in severe pain," Chara said Thursday. "Just tried to help out as best I could."

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Two months ago Chara did his part in helping Zetterberg, but now the Boston Bruins defenceman will likely be tasked with trying to stop the Detroit Red Wings forward in his return. All signs point to Zetterberg playing in Game 4 Thursday as the Red Wings try to tie their Atlantic Division semifinal series at two games apiece.

Zetterberg did line rushes with Pavel Datsyuk and Justin Abdelkader and took his spot on the first power-play unit. his participation in Game 4 was awaiting clearance from doctors and pre-game warm-ups, but teammates liked what they saw out of the 33-year-old.

"I think he's kind of raring to go," Abdelkader said. "He's been looking really good for the last while. It'd be a huge boost, getting our captain back, kind of unexpectedly."

Zetterberg last played an NHL game Feb. 8 and reinjured his back while playing for Sweden at the Olympics. He managed to get through just one game before the herniated disk forced him out for the remainder of the tournament.

"He wanted to go there and play," Swedish teammate and Bruins forward Loui Eriksson said. "He was in his room all the time after the first game. It's tough."

After taking some extra time in Sochi to rest his back, Zetterberg flew home on the charter flight that left following the quarter-final round. He underwent surgery Feb. 21 and knew he'd be on the shelf for a long time.

Zetterberg eyed the second round for a return, and even after practising Wednesday wouldn't commit to being back in the lineup. He was not made available to speak to reporters on Thursday following the morning skate, but his comments a day earlier weren't that of a patient player.

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Though Zetterberg figured it would be "optimal" to get a few practices in before returning, he said that's unlikely in to happen in the playoffs and that "one of these days you just have to make a decision."

Zetterberg told veteran coach Mike Babcock he felt close to being ready, and Babcock left it up to doctors. As for what the Red Wings captain can provide in his first game in more than two months, that remains a mystery.

"I can expect him to provide great leadership, both in the room and on the bench, so if we get nothing else, that's good enough," Babcock said. "But I think he's pretty competitive, he's been working at it. Obviously when you have back surgery, they don't let you come back early. So the doctors and him have had a plan and he's been working on it."

That work has all been leading up to Zetterberg's return. If he is indeed in the lineup for Game 4, already fired-up fans at Joe Louis Arena will get another infusion of energy.

"They're definitely going to erupt," defenceman Brendan Smith said. "They should. I erupt when I see him on the ice."

Zetterberg had 16 goals and 32 assists in 45 regular-season games. In his Stanley Cup playoff career, he has 114 points in 123 games.

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"He's definitely a great player," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "That being said, it doesn't change our game plan. We respect the Red Wings as they are. They're a great team offensively, and they have a lot of firepower. He's definitely another addition to that."

Winger Todd Bertuzzi is set to make his series debut after being a healthy scratch for the first three games. He'll replace Tomas Jurco in a decision that wasn't easy for Babcock.

"We're taking out Jurco, who's got great speed and plays real well," he said. "Why would you do that? That's a great question, I asked myself that a hundred times yesterday and then just before I was trying to fall asleep I started thinking about it again, so then I didn't sleep. I don't know. I'm trying to do the right thing."

Daniel Alfredsson (back) won't play in Game 4, though Babcock said trainer were optimistic the former Ottawa Senators captain would be ready for Game 5 Saturday back in Boston.

"Could you throw him in the game? Probably," Babcock said of Alfredsson. "He hasn't practised in a while. We don't really know. We're trying to put the best lineup we can on the ice to help us win."

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