(SportsNetwork.com) - The Detroit Red Wings have been doing fine without Pavel Datsyuk in the lineup lately. That said, the playoff-hopeful club is obviously excited about the star forward's probable return to the lineup on Friday when the Red Wings host the Buffalo Sabres.
Datsyuk expects to play Friday for the first time since Feb. 27 and he'll join a Detroit club that is riding a three-game winning streak, a surge that has boosted the Red Wings' chances to make a 23rd straight trip to the playoffs.
The Red Wings, who haven't missed the playoffs since 1989-90 campaign, are currently occupying the first of the Eastern Conference's two wild card spots with 86 points. Detroit is only one point in front of Columbus and two ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are just outside the playoff picture with 84 points.
Detroit and Columbus both have six games left in the regular season, while Toronto has four. Both the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs are idle on Friday.
Datsyuk has sat out 16 straight and 30 of Detroit's last 34 games due to inflammation in his left knee. The three-time Selke Award winner has 15 goals and 18 assists in 39 games this season.
"I expect him to be one of the best players in the world. He'll be fine," Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock said of his expectations for Datsyuk on Friday.
The Red Wings have been hit hard by injuries in 2013-14 and Datsyuk's return is only one step towards getting healthy for a potential playoff run. The club expects to be without captain Henrik Zetterberg for the rest of the regular season, and fellow forwards Stephen Weiss and Dan Cleary and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson are still sidelined indefinitely.
However, forward Daniel Alfredsson could join Datsyuk in the lineup tonight after missing Detroit's last game due to a lower-body issue.
The Red Wings picked up their third straight win by downing a red-hot Boston club Wednesday in the Motor City. Detroit rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the third period to record a 3-2 victory and send the Bruins to their first regulation defeat since March 1.
Tomas Jurco tied the game and Gustav Nyquist won it with goals 1:42 apart in the latter stages of the third period to lift Detroit to victory at Joe Louis Arena. Tomas Tatar added a second-period goal and Jimmy Howard came up with 33 saves for the Red Wings, who have won six of their last nine outings.
"Goaltending was good, we survived and found a way to get playing and skating a little bit. We were fortunate enough to be opportunistic and get some goals," said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.
Howard will get the call in net again on Friday when the Red Wings complete a three-game homestand. A native of Ogdensburg, N.Y., Howard is 4-0 with a 1.12 goals against average and .957 save percentage in his career against Buffalo.
The Red Wings have won the first two of four meetings against the Sabres this season, with Howard anchoring a 2-1 home victory on Oct. 2 and Jonas Gustavsson picking up the win in a 3-1 triumph in Buffalo on Nov. 24.
Detroit has claimed six straight and nine of the last 10 meetings in this series. The Sabres also have lost four in a row and 12 of the past 13 encounters at Joe Louis Arena, where the Wings are 17-12-10 this season.
The Sabres are last in the NHL with 51 points and are headed for their third straight year without a postseason. Buffalo has not fared well in a spoiler role down the stretch, losing five of six and 12 of its last 14 games.
Buffalo played well in a road loss on Thursday, falling 2-1 in regulation against the St. Louis Blues, who are tied for the NHL lead in points. The Sabres were only able to get one of their 25 shots past Blues goaltender Brian Elliott, who allowed a goal to Cody Hodgson in the final minute of regulation to fall short of a shutout.
Nathan Lieuwen recorded 26 saves for Buffalo in a losing cause. Lieuwen surrendered a goal to Maxim Lapierre late in the second period and Brenden Morrow scored at 1:52 of the third to make it a 2-0 game.
"We can definitely look at the mistakes and see where we can get better," Lieuwen said. "I definitely think we could have taken this game in overtime and given them a run for their money."
Matt Hackett expects to get the start on Friday. His only previous appearance against the Red Wings came with Minnesota during the 2011-12 season. Hackett entered a blowout loss in relief and stopped all six shots he faced in the Wild's 6-0 loss to Detroit on March 2, 2012.
The Sabres have compiled a poor 8-26-3 record as the visiting team this season and have lost four straight and eight of their last nine road games. The club will complete a three-game trip on Sunday before hosting Detroit in a rematch on Tuesday.