Wearing a half cage to protect his swollen left check held together by nearly 60 stitches, Red Wings forward Drew Miller planned to rejoin his teammates for tonight’s critically important game against division rival Boston.
Miller caught an errant skate to his face in his first shift of Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime shootout loss to Ottawa and missed the rest of the game. He said he wanted to return for the third period, but was overruled by doctors — and his wife. So he was eager to rejoin an injury-depleted lineup tonight against a team that had closed to within two points of the third-place Wings in the Atlantic Division’s playoff race.
"This is a big game for our team," Miller said after this morning’s skate, "so I’m excited about getting back out there and helping our team out."
While he was appreciative of the additional head-ware designed to protect his face, Miller said it took some getting used to and does limit his view of the puck around his feet.
"You wear a half-shield for so long and then you add a piece to the bottom, it’s a little different," he said. "But after two days with it on (he skated in practice on Wednesday as well), I feel comfortable and confident playing with it on.
"I’ll just go out there and do what I do, play my game. It would be different if (Henrik) Zetterberg was unable to see the puck, but for me, I just block shots and chip the puck out."
So it goes in hockey. While in some sports players might be out for days with a blister or hangnail, Miller was back to work within hours of nearly losing his left eye to a razor-sharp skate blade.
"I like that," coach Mike Babcock said when asked about what he thought it was that made hockey players want to return to the action so quickly after being hurt.
Take a puck to the face and lose some teeth? Get stitched up and ready for your next shift. Need arthroscopic surgery to repair some cartilage in your knee? Back on skates three days later.
"Well, they should," Babcock said. "When your buddies are out there putting it on the line, you should be out there with them. That’s what being a good teammate is. Lots of people talk about good team-building. They say, ‘Let’s go play laser tag or go bowling or do some ropes course.’
"How about blocking a shot? How about get your face cut and play the next night? That’s team-building to me. That’s laying it on the line for your buddies. I think Millsie feels good about himself for doing that, but also that’s how you do it. We’re proud of Millsie, but we need him. He’s an important player for us."
And furthermore, Babcock said, he’s not sure hockey players have the market cornered on playing hurt.
"You can’t tell me everybody in football isn’t hurting," he said. "And these kids playing in the Final Four (NCAA basketball tournament) coming up, I assume they’re all beat up as well."
But while the Wings were grateful for Miller’s return, the news was mixed regarding other injured players Babcock was hoping would be available against the Bruins.
Pavel Datsyuk, their best player, remains unavailable again with a nagging lower-body injury, though he said he hoped to play this weekend. Forwards Erik Cole and Tomas Jurco are out with upper-body injuries. Center Riley Sheahan (upper body) will be available if he gets medical clearance before the game, Babcock said.
Joakim Andersson was expected to be available after the birth today of his daughter, Babcock said.
A subplot to tonight’s game involved a little sibling rivalry: Wings defenseman Brendan Smith will face-off against his younger brother, Riley, a Bruins forward.
"They’re always exciting," Brendan said about games against Boston, "and for some reason they always seem to be big games, so it’s fun to play against them. The play hard, and they play us well. And obviously we have a few scores to settle with them because of the playoffs (last spring) and how they’ve played us this year.
"So this is a big game. It’s going to be a good one."