Red Wings aim to clinch playoff berth in Pittsburgh

By The Sports NetworkApril 9, 2014 at 11:18 AM
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( - The Detroit Red Wings can clinch their 23rd straight trip to the playoffs when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins for Wednesday's battle at Consol Energy Center.

The Red Wings, who last missed the playoffs in 1990, need to gain just one point from Wednesday's game to qualify for the postseason yet again.

With 90 points, Detroit is five ahead of ninth-seeded Washington and six clear of New Jersey. All three teams have three games left in the regular season, and both the Capitals and Devils are idle on Wednesday. The Red Wings also are a point ahead of Columbus for the first of the Eastern Conference's two wild card playoff spots. The Blue Jackets play Wednesday in Dallas.

The Red Wings have won five of their last six games to solidify their postseason chances. After dropping the opener of a three-game road trip Saturday in Montreal, Detroit bounced back with Tuesday's 4-2 victory in Buffalo.

Darren Helm, David Legwand and Pavel Datsyuk scored third-period goals for the Red Wings in the win over the Sabres. Brendan Smith also tallied for Detroit, while Jimmy Howard backed up his offense with 25 saves.

Detroit head coach Mike Babcock won his 414th game with the franchise, vaulting him over Jack Adams for tops on the all-time list.

"The win tonight is way more important than that," Babcock said.

Detroit improved to 20-15-4 as the visiting team this season after Tuesday's win. The club will host Carolina in its final home game of the regular season on Friday before completing its schedule Sunday in St. Louis.

Pittsburgh is wrapping up the regular season on a three-game homestand that begins tonight. The club already has sealed up the Metropolitan Division title and is locked into the second seed in the East. All that is left for the Penguins is to await the outcome of the other playoff races, which will determine who Pittsburgh hosts in the opening round of the postseason.

The Penguins have won four of their last six games and are coming off Sunday's 3-2 shootout win in Colorado. Pittsburgh outlasted the Avalanche despite playing without captain Sidney Crosby, fellow forward Chris Kunitz and defensemen Olli Maatta and Brooks Orpik due to various injuries.

Pittsburgh could get some of those players back tonight, and the club also will see defenseman Kris Letang make his return to the lineup after suffering a stroke in January.

Letang has missed 26 games since last playing on Jan. 27 against Buffalo. The 26-year-old blueliner had been cleared by doctors to resume all physical activities in late March and Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero said it was up to Letang when he wanted to come back.

"Kris was cleared by doctors and it was his choice on when to return," Shero said. "He's been bugging me for a while to play"

Letang had battled injuries this season before suffering the stroke in January, but still has managed to post 10 goals and eight assists in just 34 games this season. He went on blood thinners following the stroke, but was taken off them when he returned to practice last month.

Meanwhile, Crosby, Kunitz, Maatta and Orpik all practiced on Tuesday and are questionable for Wednesday's game. Even if all four of those players return tonight, Pittsburgh will still be without several injured players, including forward Evgeni Malkin.

Brandon Sutter supplied both regulation goals for the Penguins in Sunday's win, giving him 13 tallies on the season. Jussi Jokinen netted the lone shootout goal in the second round, as the Penguins picked up the win at Pepsi Center.

Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 39 saves to earn the victory.

The Pens and Red Wings have split a pair of meetings in 2013-14, but Wednesday's matchup marks the first encounter this season in Pittsburgh. Detroit has fared well recently in the Steel City, going 3-1-1 in the last five encounters at Consol Energy Center.

Pittsburgh is 27-9-2 as the host this season.


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