PITTSBURGH – Though the Red Wings are just a point a way from sealing a Stanley Cup playoff berth, players and coaches are in full post-season mode, opting to skip Wednesday’s morning skate to rest players for tonight’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center.
The Red Wings claimed a 4-2 victory in Buffalo on Tuesday. It is Detroit’s second set of back-to-back games since last weekend so resting players is critical at this time of year.
Coach Mike Babcock said he anticipates having to make a game-time decision with the forward lines. While he wouldn't elaborate to the reason, he said that should the player not be ready to go that Joakim Andersson will step into the lineup.
“I’m going to talk to the guys right now. I haven’t met with anybody yet so as soon as I see them here in a minute then I’ll let you know here tonight,” Babcock said. “They’re will be a game-time decision probably. I’ve got Andy warming up for sure and we’ll just see what happens.”
Andersson, who has missed the past three games as a healthy scratch, has produced 17 points in 64 games this season.
Asked if Pavel Datsyuk will play in his fourth game in six days, Babcock said, “I haven’t talked to him but I sure think he’s going.”
Datsyuk is still recovery from a knee injury that forced him to miss 30 games since early January.
The Red Wings are also going with backup Jonas Gustavsson tonight, Babcock said. Gustavsson has had a tremendous season, though he’s been a smidge better on the road where he’s recorded an 8-2-2 record with a 2.54 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.
Adequate rest has also helped the Red Wings’ No. 2 goalie, who is 9-1-2 with a 2.63 GAA and .908 save percentage when starting every three or more days this season.
Detroit maintains a one-point edge in the race for the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and could face the Penguins in a first-round playoff series should the standings remain the same. The Columbus Blue Jackets, who travel to Dallas to makeup a postponed game against the Stars tonight, currently hold the second wild-card.
“For us it’s about getting points every night,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We’ve put ourselves in a good spot but we haven’t accomplished anything yet, so we put ourselves in a good spot, but yeah, we haven’t accomplished anything.”
The Wings and Pens are meeting for the third and final time in this regular season. They split the first two matchups at Joe Louis Arena, and this is the Red Wings’ first trip to Pittsburgh since Dec. 13, 2011.
Should the Wings and Penguins meet in a best-of-seven game series, it will be just the third time that the two clubs will face-off in the playoffs, and the first time without the series winner leaving the ice with the Stanley Cup. But don’t expect a prelude to a possible playoff matchup, Babcock said.
“Well, I’m aware that that could possibly happen. Yup. Obviously that’s your job when your job’s to know what’s going on,” Babcock said. “I believe this is a regular-season game. And I’ve seen a lot of those statement games and then the playoffs start and there’s no statement. We’re going to play tonight.”
Pulkkinen, 22, leads the Griffins with 30 goals, nine power-play goals and 55 points in 67 games, and ranks among the team’s leaders with 25 assists and a plus-18 rating. Among AHL rookies, Pulkkinen ranks third in scoring, first in goals and first in plus/minus, and he’s tied for fourth among all league scorers.
The 21-year-old Sproul has produced 31 points in 70 games this season, placing second among Griffins’ defensemen and tying for eighth overall on the team in scoring. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound blue-liner has 21 assists and two game-winning goals. His 10 goals and 31 points are both tied for second among all AHL rookie defensemen. He’s also been a solidify presence for the Griffins’ defensive corps that ranks second in the league allowing just 2.43 goals per game.
THE NEXT WAVE: Fans are excited to learn more about the young players who will be part of the Red Wings’ next wave of NHL talent. Players like Pulkkinen and Sproul are still a season or two from finding permanent spots at the NHL level.
The same is likely true for Val-d'Or right wing Anthony Mantha, the only player in the CHL to score 50 or more goals the last two seasons.
Manta, who was the Red Wings’ first-round draft pick last June, has 11 points in seven QMJHL playoff games this spring. Val-d’Or has a 2-1 lead in its best-of-seven quarterfinals series with Drummondville. Mantha leads the series with four goals. He scored two goals each in Game 1 and Game 3.
Game 4 of the series is tonight in Drummondville.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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