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Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg aims for post-season return if franchise extends its streak

DETROIT - Henrik Zetterberg wants to play in the playoffs.

"That's the goal," Zetterberg said Wednesday, speaking to reporters for the first time since he had back surgery Feb 21.

The Detroit Red Wings hope to give their captain what he wants, but they've got work to do.

Detroit would be in its 23rd straight post-season if the regular season ended Wednesday, but it is in a logjam for one of two spots in the Eastern Conference wild-card race.

The Red Wings, who have 10 games left in the regular season, will play Montreal on Thursday night at home.

Zetterberg is aiming to return after the playoffs begin April 16.

"I think the timeline is eight weeks without contact," he said. "That's what the doctors say and that's what we're going to stick with, and then we'll re-evaluate after that."

Zetterberg said he felt great when he went to Winter Olympics. After Zetterberg played his one and only game as Sweden's captain, he woke up in pain because a lingering back problem became debilitating. He had surgery about a week later in New York.

"This had to be done," he said. "We went in, took away two pieces from my disc that were pushing on the nerve. Once this is healed and properly rehabbed, I shouldn't have an issue again."

Despite not playing for Detroit since Feb. 8, Zetterberg still leads the team with 48 points.

The Red Wings have been resting Pavel Datsyuk since Feb. 27, hoping it will help his left knee heal enough to help the team late in the regular season and the playoffs if they earn a spot. Datsyuk has been skating this week, but it is not known how longer he will be out.

Detroit's front line has been bolstered recently by the return of Darren Helm and Joakim Andersson. Tomas Jurco, who has been out for two weeks with injured ribs, is expected to play Thursday against the Canadiens.

"The big thing is you get them back, but they're good for one game and then it takes them about three games to get their conditioning up to speed," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

Zetterberg led the team with 16 goals for a while, but Gustav Nyquist has surged into the lead with 25, including two in each of the previous two games and nine during a six-game streak. From Jan. 20 through Tuesday's games, he scored an NHL-high 20 goals—five more than the league's second-leading scorer during that stretch.

"He's the hottest player in the league right now and we hope it's going to continue," Zetterberg said.

Nyquist, who scored four times in 40 NHL games entering the season, has made the most out of his opportunities to play a lot for a banged-up team that has been missing a slew of forwards. Detroit's fourth-round pick in 2008 previously scored a lot for the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins, at the University of Maine and in the Swedish Junior League.

"He's on a roll and feeling good about himself," Babcock said. "You never know until these players play whether they can do it in this league. He's been a dominant scorer in every league he's ever played in."

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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/larrylage

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