Todd Bertuzzi cracked jokes and laughed at practice -- can a comeback be far away?

For the first time in two months, he appears to be on the horizon.

Bertuzzi hasn't played for the Detroit Red Wings since limping out of St. Louis Feb. 7, hampered by nerve pain that extended from his back down through his right leg. But he has joined practices this week, and he's in contact drills. Most encouraging, maybe, is that he's scheduled to be on this afternoon's flight to Phoenix -- and someone in pain wouldn't sit on a plane for five hours if there were risk of aggravating anything.

Bertuzzi won't play Thursday at Phoenix nor Friday at Colorado, but every day he's on the ice delights teammates, who've missed him.

"He tried to take my spot in front of the net," fellow forward Johan Franzen said, laughing. "I told him to beat it."

Bertuzzi said he's hopeful that he'll feel even better within a week.