Henrik Zetterberg walked from the players lounge in the Red Wings dressing room in considerably more comfort than three weeks ago, when he attended Nicklas Lidstrom’s big night.

Then, he was so stiff, it was almost painful watching him move.

A prodigal son, one of several on the Red Wings, returned Wednesday — at least for a chat. And because late March and April begin the time of year when Zetterberg traditionally proves capable of lashing the team to that troublesome back of his, and vanquishing foes in the stretch drives and playoffs of the past, even a chat offered hope.

“Feeling much better, thank you,” he said. “Obviously, it was a struggle there for a bit. But last two weeks has been much better.”

The young Red Wings replacements are attempting, against considerable odds, to author a successful playoff run with more than half the NHL roster injured and not playing, at times.

Their captain has been relegated watching, while working some rehabilitation in, now for a couple weeks. But the doctors say skating with any contact must wait for eight weeks after the surgery Feb. 21, when they removed some floating slivers of bone from his spine that were impacting a nerve.

That date, circled no doubt on some calendars around town, is April 17, one day after the playoffs begin.

The Red Wings and their fans are hopeful.