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Monday, April 7

Updated: April 11, 8:02 AM ET

Wings captain getting stronger each day

Associated Press

DETROIT -- Steve Yzerman says he's lucky to be a hockey player.

Steve Yzerman
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Detroit Red Wings
Profile
2002-2003 SEASON STATISTICS
GM G A PTS +/- PIM
16 2 6 8 6 8

Otherwise, there's no way the Detroit Red Wings captain could play after having an osteotomy -- a procedure that involved sawing into the bone below his knee and using a wedge to realign the joint.

''I don't have the cartilage to sustain the pounding that comes with running,'' Yzerman said. ''Fortunately in hockey, it's a gliding thing so there's not a lot of pounding. That's allowing me to play. Had I been in basketball, baseball, or football, there would be no chance.''

Yzerman is not the silky-smooth skater he once was, but he has recovered well enough from knee surgery to lead the defending Stanley Cup champions on and off the ice.

Detroit will begin its best-of-seven opening round playoff series Thursday against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

Yzerman will lead the Red Wings into the playoffs for the 18th time in 20 seasons thanks to a remarkable comeback. Yzerman, who returned on Feb. 24 six months after the surgery, insisted he never considered retiring after hoisting the Stanley Cup for a third time in six seasons last June.

Now, Yzerman feels better than he did during the playoffs last season when he could barely get off the ice when he was knocked down.

''I'm skating better than I did this time last year,'' said Yzerman, who will turn 38 on May 8. ''At the start of the playoffs last year, it was really difficult.

''After surgery, I had hope that I would feel totally normal again. But unfortunately, I don't think I'll ever get to that feeling.''

Yzerman has just two goals and six assists this season, but he clearly makes an impact because the Red Wings are 14-2 with him in the lineup.

''He's an inspiration for what he's come back from,'' teammate Darren McCarty said. ''He's not the old Steve Yzerman, but he can bring so many other things to the team, whether it's the little things he's doing on the ice, or in the room, or just being around.

''His presence goes a long way.''

Yzerman knows he's not the player he was when he scored 127 goals during the 1988-89 and 1989-90 seasons, but he's not disappointed with how he's playing.

''I expected to be a lot worse,'' he said. ''The only trouble I find is in traffic when I have the puck, I'm thinking. The hope is, in the playoffs that it all comes back and you just stop thinking and play.''

The future Hall of Famer has 660 career goals and 1,010 assists. In 177 playoff games, he has 67 goals and 108 assists.

When the native of Cranbrook, British Columbia, began his career in Detroit during the 1983-84 season, he was encouraged to shoot, shoot and shoot some more because the team was so bad.

Ten years later, Yzerman was asked to make a radical change by becoming a two-way player under Scotty Bowman.

''Early, it just became a challenge, and we had a really good team so I was prepared to do any role when Scotty was coach and play any position or style to be a part of this,'' Yzerman said. ''Then it was a challenge to prove that I could be an effective player in different areas and I enjoyed it.''

Whether or not the Red Wings repeat as champions, Yzerman intends to play again after his contract expires following this season.

''I certainly want to be back,'' he said.
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