This is the way Jakub Kindl envisioned it.

Hours from the start of a critical game, he's playing an important role …

As a regular.

"I'm enjoying my life, to be honest with you," the Red Wings defenseman said before Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Blackhawks. "The weather is nice, and it's playoff time."

It's been a struggle at times for Kindl, a 2005 first-round pick who never had been able to land a regular job until this season.

With the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart and Brian Rafalski ahead of him the past few seasons, it's not like there were a whole lot of opportunities.

"With guys like Lidstrom and Stuart, and Rafalski (two seasons ago), you weren't going to take their spots," Kindl said. "Those guys, you're not going to take them out of the lineup.

"This year, when you see we've had so many defensemen playing, guys coming in here and playing, that's never happened when I was in the lineup before waiting for an opportunity. It's definitely changed."

Still, this season began with a struggle.

Kindl missed the first three games with a groin injury, then didn't consistently play after being scratched Feb. 21.

Since then, Kindl has been a consistent presence, showing the type of skill Red Wings officials believed the 6-foot-3, 216-pounder had.

In 41 games, Kindl had 13 points (four goals), and his plus-15 rating was second behind Pavel Datsyuk's plus-21.