DETROIT – Tuesday was an off-day for the Red Wings, and Pavel Datsyuk was up to his shenanigans, tweeting a picture of him fishing on a warm, sunshiny afternoon.
While the photo was a ruse, the last quarter of the regular-season – which begins Thursday for the Red Wings in Phoenix – is setting up to have its own potential pitfalls.
The Wings have 41 points and currently own the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference standings. But a handful of teams are in striking distance of Detroit with St. Louis, Nashville, Edmonton, Columbus, Phoenix and Dallas all within six-points of the Wings.
Only the Blackhawks and Ducks have stockpiled enough wins for them to feel somewhat invincible at this point.
“I thought there would be teams separating themselves, but it’s a logjam,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “That’s what people wanted. It’s exciting. I’d rather be one of the two teams that separated themselves, but that’s what it is, so embrace it.”
With the NHL’s trade deadline in the rearview mirror, the sprint to the playoffs is now, and wins are critical for about eight teams in the West, including the Wings who have to play seven of the final 12 games on the road. The season ends April 27 in Dallas.
“This is the fun time,” declared captain Henrik Zetterberg. “You look at the standings and you know you have to win a lot of games to get in. It’s basically the playoffs already and that’s why you play hockey. You want to be in these situations.”
The Wings didn’t make any trade noise, choosing to stand pat as the 3 p.m. deadline passed. But Zetterberg said he’s content with the state of the roster, especially the depth with several players having returned from injuries lately.
“Getting some new, fresh blood in, that’s the same as getting a player from another team,” said Zetterberg, who has missed the last two games with a groin injury. “We’ve been doing all of the little things right. … We still have bodies that haven’t really been playing. We just got Coco (Carlo Colaiacovo) back here the other game and he looks really good and hopefully we get some more bodies in there too, and we’ll be fine going into the postseason.”
The Wings certainly need the captain back in the lineup, and he’s optimistic that he’ll play against the Coyotes. Another piece that the Wings need is forward Damien Brunner, who missed Wednesday’s practice with a lower body injury. He too, said that he hopes to be in the lineup Thursday, but Babcock wasn’t so sure on Wednesday, saying that Brunner is day to day.
“He practiced today. Looked good,” Babcock said of Zetterberg. “We plan on playing him tomorrow, but with travel and you wake up tomorrow then you decide what’s going on.”
DeKEYSER’S DEBUT: Babcock has hinted that undrafted rookie free agent defenseman Danny DeKeyser will play in a game soon. But when he was asked if the young hometown star would make his debut Thursday, the Wings’ coach backed off of his earlier assertion.
“Not for sure. He practiced today like he was playing tomorrow,” Babcock said. “When we put Danny in it’ll be because we think he’s going to help us win. It’s not because we think we owe him a game or anything like that.”
Bertuzzi skated for the second time with the team this week and is going on the two-game trip to Phoenix and Denver. But Helm, who hasn’t experienced any recent setbacks, but hasn’t shown any great improvement either, stayed behind in Detroit where he’ll continue skating on his own.
Helm recently met with another back specialist, who confirmed that there’s no structural damage to his spine. While that comes as good news, Helm is somewhat upbeat that his recovery is still on the right path.
“Last couple weeks I've been pretty positive about the way things have been going,” Helm said. “Hopefully when I (get back) there's some games left that I can play.”
Meanwhile, Bertuzzi is no longer dealing with the back pain that has sidelined him for months, but the pinched nerve, which runs down the front of his right leg, still has fully healed.
“As far as speed and contact I still haven't had any of that,” Bertuzzi said. “Still having a few issues with my leg, so hopefully within a week, or so, I start seeing a turnover.”
RUMORS COME AND GO: The trade deadline was more distracting this year than normal for Valtteri Filppula, who can become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. And it was because of his status, many hockey prognosticators predicted the Wings would entertain offers from around the league for the Finnish forward.
“Rumors, I don’t look at not so much,” Filppula said. “I’ve been checking when things happen. Other than that I haven’t put too much thought into it. If it happens it happens if not it doesn’t.”
Asked if he’s agent has talked to Wings general manager Ken Holland, Filppula said, ““No update. There’s nothing going on right now. … So I really can’t update you now.”
But Filppula said he prefers to stay with the Wings, who made him a third-round draft pick in 2002.
“It’s been a great place to be, great team,” he said. “Obviously you always want to be on a team like that.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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