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Final week important to Red Wings

With game in-hand on Nashville, Chicago, points are a premium

Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 3:08 PM / News
By Bill Roose  - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com
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Final week important to Red Wings
With the majority of their injured players back in the lineup, the Wings and coach Mike Babcock are hoping everyone gets back in sync before the playoffs. (Photo by Getty Images)
DETROIT – With one-point separating a trio of teams for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference standings, the Red Wings need to get into playoff form, and do so quickly, coach Mike Babcock said.

“I think we're getting better,” he said. “We got to get guys back and healthy and in game shape.”

All but two of the walking wounded have returned to the Wings’ lineup in the last week, but chemistry and continuity is such a big factor in a team sport that time is needed to get everyone working together in sync again.

“That's part of it, but it's working hard enough and being in good enough shape to work hard enough,” Babcock said. “The guys that weren't skating, it takes you longer. So any way you look at it that affects your team. As far as being fluid as a group, I don't think we are good enough at this point.”

Sunday’s game with the Florida Panthers is paramount for the Wings, who are tied with Chicago, and trail Nashville by one-point for the fourth playoff seed, which carries with it the final home-ice berth for at least the first round. It’s also important because the Wings have a game in-hand over the Blackhawks and Predators.

Friday’s 4-1 loss to Nashville was disappointing because the forward lines again didn’t produce enough energy, which usually leads to quality scoring chances. Babcock was pleased with the power play units and Henrik Zetterberg’s line, but little else.

“I didn't think we got through the middle of the ice enough (Friday) night, put enough pressure on their goaltender,” Babcock said. “We had good scoring chances but in the end we didn't make it hard enough on them, so we got to do a better job there.

“I thought our power play was really good, had great opportunities. In the end we didn't score on it. I thought our penalty kill has been better here of late, which is real positive, but the only line that generated anything even-strength wise was Zetterberg's line. We got two chances out of (Cory) Emmerton's line, but we didn't get much out of the other groups. If we want to do that we got to get through the middle of the rink better.”

If the Wings hope to outlast Chicago and Nashville for the fourth seed, they’ll likely need six-points in the last four games, including a win against the Blackhawks in next Saturday’s season finale.

The Wings need three-points just to reach the 100-point plateau to extend their current NHL record to 12 straight seasons. The 1989-99 season was the last time Detroit didn’t hit the 100-point milestone, which ironically enough was also the last time the Wings produced a losing road record.

“It's going to be important that everybody gets up to game speed, get our legs going and we start playing our system the way we want to play it,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Look at different line combinations as well, the way we want to play it down the stretch. We need to start playing better as a whole, feeling better about ourselves and paying attention to details to our game.”

Following Saturday’s practice, Babcock indicated that he might swing some line combinations against the Panthers, perhaps moving rookie forward Gustav Nyquist to the Datsyuk line and putting Todd Bertuzzi on the third line, which hasn’t had enough energy since Darren Helm went out with a knee injury March 17.

“I didn't like the line (Friday) night, I didn't think it generated anything at all, so when I go through my options there, I haven't decided 100 percent,” Babcock said. “The same with my third line, it didn't generate a scoring chance. So why? Normally Helmer's on it. He's not on it. They got to roll around and be physical and grind down low. We need an energy line that plays physical.”

Defensively, Babcock will continue to rotate the sixth defenseman spot. Kyle Quincey, who sat out Friday’s game, is expected to be back in the lineup Sunday. However, Babcock was noncommittal on Saturday about who would sit out Florida.

While isn’t easy to suspect that Jakub Kindl would be the odd defenseman out of Sunday’s lineup, there’s evidence that the healthy scratch might be Ian White, who was a minus-2 in each of the last two games.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose


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