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Behind their reliable defense, the Minnesota Wild have been able to stay in the playoff hunt. The Detroit Red Wings, meanwhile, are still trying to find more consistent play in their end before the postseason begins.
The Wild will look to keep their slim playoff hopes alive and extend the Red Wings' home losing streak on Sunday, but Minnesota hasn't experienced much success recently at Joe Louis Arena.
Entering Sunday's play, the Wild (37-32-9) are three points behind the Western Conference's final postseason berth with four games remaining.
Niklas Backstrom helped keep Minnesota in the race with Friday's 4-0 win over visiting Calgary, making 27 saves for his team-record eighth shutout of the season.
Giving up 17 goals in his last nine starts, Backstrom has tried to make his case as a Vezina Trophy candidate, and he has allowed more than two in a game only twice in that time. Backstrom is among the league leaders with a 2.32 goals-against average, but is 1-2-1 with a 3.56 goals-against average in his career versus Detroit.
While Backstrom's play Friday was not surprising, Minnesota's three first-period goals were.
"I think the desperation in our game was evident in the first period," said forward Cal Clutterbuck, who snapped a 30-game scoring drought. "This was it for us as far as playoff chances. We wanted to get it, and we got it."
The Wild have alternated wins and losses in their last nine games, and an inconsistent offense can take most of the blame. In going 5-3-1, Minnesota has scored 18 goals in its victories, but only four in its defeats.
Marian Gaborik and Andrew Brunette, however, have provided consistent scoring. Gaborik has six goals and three assists since returning on March 22 from hip surgery, and Brunette has four goals and three assists in the last five games.
Despite a 5-2 home win in the teams' previous meeting Feb. 21, the Wild haven't performed well against the Red Wings, going 3-8-2 since Jan. 20, 2006. After joining the NHL in 2000, Minnesota has won in four of its 15 trips to Detroit, and once in the last five.
The Wild, however, will face a Red Wings team that has looked anything like the defending Stanley Cup champions during a season-high three-game home skid. The losing streak has all but ended Detroit's chances to win a second straight Presidents' Trophy and finish first in the West for a fifth consecutive season.
For the second straight game, the Red Wings rallied only to give the game away. In Thursday's 5-4 loss to St. Louis, Detroit (49-19-9) scored with 4:43 remaining to tie it at 4, but the Blues responded 36 seconds later by beating Ty Conklin.
"Obviously, the job I'm doing here, the team is not ready," coach Mike Babcock said. "So, myself and the leadership group here, as a group of individuals, we've got to do better than this. This is unacceptable."
For Sunday's game, Babcock is expected to start Chris Osgood, who has allowed four goals in two victories this season against Minnesota but hasn't won in his last three starts.
The Red Wings will make their fourth attempt to join Boston (1970-74) and Montreal (1975-79) as the only teams with four consecutive 50-win seasons, and Babcock would become the first coach with four straight 50-win campaigns since Scotty Bowman with the Canadiens in 1979.
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