After dominating Calgary in two decisive wins in Detroit to open the best-of-seven Western Conference series, coach Mike Babcock made Detroit’s first line-up substitution inserting Bertuzzi into Jiri Hudler’s spot on the right side on the line with centre Valterri Filppula and Johan Franzen.
“Nope, none,” said Babcock when asked if had any apprehension about breaking up the fourth line trio that had been very effective chipping in an even-strength goal in each of the first two games.
Bertuzzi finished up a minus one and had two shots on goal in 13:30 of ice time.
“I thought Bert was fine,” said Babcock. “He was physical, he had a couple of chances to score. We didn’t play him a ton, he hasn’t played a lot of hockey.”
Bertuzzi’s first Detroit post-season debut came three weeks shy of the fourth anniversary of his last NHL playoff appearance, a game seven clash with the Minnesota Wild.
That night, May 8, 2003, Bertuzzi scored early to help the hometown Vancouver Canucks to an early 2-0 lead. However, Minnesota rallied back to take a 3-2 lead and the Wild put the game away with three minutes left scoring a power-play goal with Bertuzzi sitting in the penalty box.
Losing three games in a row, as the Canucks did that year in blowing its 3-1 second round series lead, is a reminder of how fragile any series lead can be.
“We have enough veterans and enough leadership in this room, our only concern is our next game and we’ll take it from there,” Bertuzzi said.
Bertuzzi’s first shift came on the power play in the game’s fifth minute and it wasn’t a moment lost upon the Calgary fans as the boos promptly cascaded down from the Pengrowth Saddledome sellout crowd of 19,289.
The volume of the jeers increased when he was knocked sprawling on a late first period bodycheck by Wayne Primeau, the crowd really roared.
“They were pretty wired up tonight, the atmosphere was good, it’s just disappointing to be up 2-1 and have the game in our hands and let it slip away,” Bertuzzi said.
Having appeared in just 15 games during the regular season, Bertuzzi hopes his timing will come as he settles in.
“As it goes on, I’ll get my hands and my timing back. I’m just trying to get out there and create some space and get some hits right now,” he said.
Bertuzzi, 32, began the season with Florida but after just seven games was placed on injured reserve with a herniated disc in his back.
The six-foot-three, 242-pound forward was still recovering from Nov. 2 back surgery when he was sent to the Detroit Red Wings just prior to the Feb. 27, NHL trade deadline.
It wasn’t until March 22 that he made his Detroit debut. Bertuzzi had two goals and two assists with the Wings before his eighth game was cut short by a concussion.
Bertuzzi missed the final game of the regular season and first two playoff games despite being medically cleared prior to Saturday afternoon’s game two.
“As the game went on, I felt a little bit more comfortable,” said Bertuzzi. “Obviously I’m capable of putting the puck in the net and contributing that way and I hope that starts soon.”
He’ll get another chance on Thursday night as the Wings and Flames meet again at the Pengrowth Saddledome for Game 4.