VANCOUVER – Well, this is it, the final week of what has definitely been one crazy lockout-shortened NHL regular season for the Red Wings.
With eight points still available, the Wings control their own playoff destiny, beginning with three straight games at home against Phoenix, Los Angeles and Nashville. They’ll finish the season next Saturday at Dallas in what might be a make-or-break game for the Wings who are seeking to extend their 21-season playoff streak.
“We just have to stick with the program regardless of where we play,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We have to find energy and just go after them. There’s no need or time to do anything else. We have to focus on what we need to do out there and just get the job done.”
The Wings enter the week with a game in hand and one-point out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, behind the current No. 8 seed Columbus Blue Jackets. Only three points separate seeds 8-11 with the Coyotes currently holding down the No. 11 spot with 46 points.
The Wings have a 10-7-4 record at Joe Louis Arena this year. They own a 5-3-1 record against the teams that they’ll face-off against this week, having out-scored them 24-16, with a pair of shutout victories and an overtime loss to the Predators. Detroit has split the remaining season series with the Stars, Coyotes and defending Stanley Cup champion Kings.
But the Wings aren’t interested in their home record. They need to play with urgency and desperation, captain Henrik Zetterberg said, following the team’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Canucks on Saturday.
“We don't care how our (home) record is now,” he said. “We know we got to win games to get into the postseason. Of course we're happy to be at home than on the road, but we got to go in and focus on Monday.”
Despite losing five of six games – including three in shutouts – the Wings have done some very good things defensively, limiting the opposition to nine goals, while holding them to 22.6 shots per game.
“I don't care where we got ‘em, we got an opportunity to look after business,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We’ll have a morning skate and get ready to play a Phoenix team that will be real competitive. We got to find a way to score more goals. Just continue to work hard and do good things and good things will happen to you.”
With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
MONDAY – vs. PHOENIX (19-17-8): Since starting April on a three-game winning streak, which included a 4-2 victory over the Red Wings on April 4, the Coyotes’ offense has gone stale, which has damaged their playoff chances by scoring just eight goals in the last six games and going 2-2-2 in the last six games. Saturday night’s 3-2 shootout win at Chicago keeps the Coyotes in the hunt – for now – making Monday’s game at Detroit pivotal. The scoring drought comes on the heels of the previous five games where they produced 20 goals during a 4-0-1 stretch. … The Coyotes may be on life-support, but since his coach Dave Tippett arrived in 2009-10, Phoenix has posted two impressive marks, going 74-31-26 in one-goal games, and 112-13-18 when scoring first. Since the beginning of the 2002-03 campaign, Tippett ranks second among all NHL head coaches in victories since the beginning of the 2002-03 season, trailing only Detroit’s Mike Babcock. Tippett has never posted a losing season as an NHL head coach with Dallas or Phoenix and has qualified for the postseason in eight of nine seasons. … Michael Stone has established career-highs this season for games played (37), goals (4), and points (7). He is one of two Coyotes defensemen to score on the power play this season. Also, Stone is second among Phoenix defensemen with 82 hits.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The Coyotes looked like they were headed to a Western Conference playoff berth when Mike Smith returned from injury in early April. The 6-foot-4 goalie was solid stopping 115 of 120 shots in leading Phoenix to a 2-1-1 record. But then he suffered his third injury this season. Considered day-to-day, it’s not known if Smith will be ready for Monday night’s game against the Red Wings. If he is, he’ll be the third Coyotes’ goaltender to start against Detroit this season. Jason LaBarbera surrendered three goals in a loss on March 25, and Chad Johnson stopped 34 shots in a 4-2 over the Wings on April 4. … Seeking a long-term contract, Smith is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 5. It’s been a frustrating season for Smith, who has posted an overall record of 13-11-4 with a 2.60 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. In eight career starts against Detroit, Smith has a 2-4-2 record with a 2.54 GAA.
WEDNESDAY – vs. LOS ANGELES (25-14-5): It’s not unfathomable for the Kings to can catch the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks for the No. 2 or 3 seed. But with San Jose breathing down their backs, the Kings are more interested in keeping a hold on the No. 4 spot that comes with a guaranteed home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. … Like the Red Wings, goal-scoring has become an issue for the Kings over the last half dozen games. Los Angeles hasn’t scored more than two goals in regulation in any of the last six contests. The odd thing is the Kings’ defense hasn’t allowed more than two regulations in the last four games. … Since the end of the 2008-09 season, the Kings have registered an astonishing 104-1-11 record when leading after two periods. … After a considerably slow start, last spring’s Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick is returning to playoff form. The 6-foot-1 goalie from Milford, Conn., is 3-0-1 in his last four starts with a 1.44 goals-against average. He has stopped 98 of 104 shots in that time.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Mike Richards has suffered from inconsistency issues all season. But over the last eight games he has produced eight points for the Kings, who, since the 2011-12 season, are 40-8-10 when the veteran center from Kenora, Ontario, records a point. He has 11 goals and 30 points in 44 games this season. He recorded a ‘Gordie Howe hat trick’ when he produced a goal, an assist and had a fighting major with Columbus’s Brandon Dubinsky on Feb. 5. … In 10 career games against the Red Wings, Richards has two goals and two assists. Both goals were short-handed tallies.
THURSDAY – vs. NASHVILLE (15-21-9): Out of the playoff race for some time now, the youth movement is underway in Smashville. The Predators saw yet another young Swede make his season debut last week when 6-foot-4 defenseman Mattias Ekholm became the fifth member of Nashville’s 2009 draft class to reach the NHL this season. Wingers Gabriel Bourque and Taylor Beck, center Craig Smith and defenseman Ryan Ellis are the others. Last Monday, Nashville fielded a forward corps whose average age is 24.9 years old. It included five players with 15 or fewer NHL games, and four more with less than 160 games experience. The Predators’ two most veteran forwards – David Legwand and Sergei Kostitsyn – have combined for 1,241 career contests. … The Predators finally got a point when they pushed the Western Conference-leading Blackhawks to overtime last Friday. It was Nashville’s only point in eight straight games.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Rookie winger Filip Forsberg was the key piece for the Predators in the trade deadline deal that saw Martin Erat dealt to the Washington Capitals. A supremely skilled two-way player, Forsberg has first-class hockey sense and puck skills. Coupled with a creativity, and some flashiness, he can do the unexpected. Besides being a great stick handler, he has a very powerful shot and overall tools to become a high scorer in the league. The 11th overall pick in last summer’s NHL draft, he fired two shots and registered a minus-2 rating in 18:37 of ice-time in his NHL debut on April 14 against the Red Wings. … Preds coach Barry Trotz has been very impressed with the 18-year-old Swede, telling the Nashville Tennessean, “My first impressions are that I love him. I've been around a lot of young guys and the ones that turn out to be really good players, top players, have a certain swagger to them. They carry themselves a certain way and I see that in him.”
SATURDAY – at DALLAS (22-19-3): The Stars have won six of their last eight contests, outscoring opponents 28-17 in the process. In the last eight games, Stars goalies Richard Bachman and Kari Lehtonen have allowed no more than two goals in six of those games. … Should the Red Wings’ playoff hopes rest on the season finale in Dallas, it’s interesting to note that over the last two seasons, the Stars have gone to overtime 23 times, the fewest of any Western Conference club, including 10 times this season. … The Stars are currently among four teams in the four major North American sports leagues with an active streak of 15-or-more consecutive winning seasons. They’re currently tied with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs for the third-longest active streak, and trail only the Red Wings (21) and New York Yankees (20).
PLAYER TO WATCH: Since the April 3 trade deadline, Stars center Vernon Fiddler is tied for the second-most points scored in the NHL. The 5-foot-11 Edmonton native has posted three goals and eight assists in eight games since the deadline, which included a six-game point streak from April 3-13. Since returning on April 3 from a lower body injury, which forced him to miss two games, Fiddler has produced three goals with eight assists and a plus-5 rating. Prior to the injury, which occurred on April 1 vs. Anaheim, Fiddler struggled to collect a goal and five assists in 33 games.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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