DETROIT – The Red Wings know the score as they gear up for the final week of the season.
They can secure the eighth and final seed in the West if they win all four remaining games, beginning tonight when the Wings host the Phoenix Coyotes, who are also in the four-team race for the No. 8 spot.
Even though they’ve produced a 3-3-3 record in April, the Red Wings still control their own playoff destiny. Should Detroit and Columbus – who current holds the No. 8 seed with 51 points – both win out, the Wings will clinch the last playoff spot, one-point ahead of the Blue Jackets.
However, should the Coyotes win on Monday, the playoff picture for the Wings becomes much cloudier.
“Big one tonight, eh? Should be fun,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said following Monday’s morning skate. “If you're watching any games around the league right now, they're competitive … and I don't expect this one to be any different.”
The Coyotes are 5-2-2 this month, and defeated the Red Wings, 4-2, in Glendale on April 4.
It’s expected that veteran goalie Mike Smith will start his second game since returning from a lower-body injury. He returned Saturday and made 38 saves – plus two more in the shootout – as Phoenix defeated Chicago 3-2.
Besides, their goaltending, the Coyotes’ centers are tremendous in the faceoff circle, ranking fifth in the league, winning more than 52 percent of their draws. Antoine Vermette and Boyd Gordon are two of the league’s top centermen in the circle, winning 58.3 and 58.2 percent of their draws, respectively.
“The faceoff circle is going to be important because they got two guys that are absolutely dominant in that area,” Babcock said. “We're going to have to be mentally tough in that area and strong. There's not going to be much room out there tonight, so it's going to be make or break on a few small plays in the game.”
PLAYER TO WATCH
C MARTIN HANZAL – The 6-foot-6 veteran center has one point in the last six games, however, Hanzal has a tremendous track record against the Red Wings. Over the last two seasons, Hanzal has scored at a rapid pace against Detroit, netting five goals for six points in five games against the Red Wings.
“He’s a big center who can skate and he’s strong on the puck,” Wings defenseman Jakub Kindl said. “He’s very strong down low, just good on the draws and strong. … You have box him out and not just let him go in front of the net that’s got to be our biggest focus.”
In his six NHL seasons, the Pisek, Czech Republic native has produced 10 goals and seven assists in 20 games against the Red Wings.
Over the last two games, the Wings held Calgary and Vancouver to just 31 shots combined. Detroit will need another strong defensive effort, Kindl said.
“We have to play hard, especially the way we did in Vancouver,” he said. “We got to go into those areas where the puck is, going in those hard areas and just play hard because we are in a race, they are in a race. They are going to come out of the gate hard and they will play hard and play like it’s a playoff game too. It’s going to be a very exciting match.”
Season Series: 1-1-0
2011-12 Season Series: 3-2-0
All-Time Series Season: 63-40-22-3
Phoenix’s Season Record: 19-17-8
Top Scorer vs. Red Wings: Martin Hanzal – 5 Goals, 1 Assist in 5 Games.
Red Wings’ Top Scorer – Pavel Datsyuk – 1 Goal, 7 Assists in 6 Games.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
Tickets to this game and the two remaining regular-season contests at The Joe are currently available for purchase at the JLA box office (313-396-7575), all Ticketmaster (800-745-3000) outlets, and online at DetroitRedWings.com.
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