With a 24th consecutive trip to the postseason hanging in the balance, the Detroit Red Wings aim for a much-needed win on Tuesday when they host the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Red Wings own the longest active postseason streak in the league, having qualified for the playoffs in 23 straight seasons since last sitting out of the tournament in the spring of 1990. However, the streak is in jeopardy thanks to a major rough patch for Detroit over the past month.
It wasn't so long ago when Mike Babcock's club was in the running for the Atlantic Division title, but the Red Wings have gone 5-10-2 over the last 17 games to fall into the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Detroit has 95 points, the same amount as the Pittsburgh Penguins, who hold the tiebreaker over the Red Wings for the first wild card. Boston also has 95 points, but is occupying the third seed from the Atlantic Division thanks to a tiebreaker.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa Senators are two points behind the Red Wings for the last postseason berth. The Sens and Penguins play tonight in Ottawa, while the Bruins are off on Tuesday. Like Detroit, the Bruins, Pens and Sens each have three games left in the regular season.
Despite the club's poor play of late, it is possible for the Red Wings to clinch a playoff spot on Tuesday if they beat the Hurricanes and Ottawa loses in regulation to the Pens.
Detroit halted a three-game losing streak with Saturday's 3-2 shootout win in Minnesota, but then failed to pick up a point the following night while dropping a 2-1 home decision against Washington.
The Red Wings fell behind 2-0 to the Capitals before Darren Helm cut the deficit in half with a power-play goal at 12:59 of the second period. Neither team was able to score the rest of the way.
Petr Mrazek stopped 26 shots as the Wings fell for the sixth time in eight games.
"I didn't think we were great early, about (the first) 10 minutes, but I thought we played hard. I don't think you can complain about the effort," said Babcock.
Justin Abdelkader missed Sunday's game with a hand injury and is expected to sit out again tonight. Fellow forward Pavel Datsyuk is questionable for tonight after aggravating an ankle injury in the third period on Sunday.
Datsyuk last missed a game with the ankle issue last Tuesday, but was playing for a third straight tilt against Washington. The Russian star has been nagged by injury for much of the season, but is still second on the team with 61 points in 61 games.
It's unclear if Jimmy Howard or Mrazek will get the call in net tonight for the Wings. Howard is 2-2-0 with a 1.99 goals against average in four lifetime appearances against Carolina. Mrazek beat the Hurricanes in his only career outing in this matchup.
Detroit has won four of the last five meetings with the Hurricanes, but Carolina did halt an epic winless streak in the Motor City a year ago.
The 'Canes posted a 2-1 win at Joe Louis Arena on April 11 of last season, giving the franchise its first victory in Detroit since the Hartford Whalers picked up a 3-0 win on Nov. 14, 1989. The Hurricanes/Whalers were 0-15-1 with a tie in the previous 17 road meetings with the Red Wings.
Carolina began a three-game road trip on Monday night and lost 4-3 in Buffalo. The Hurricanes made a valiant comeback effort in the game, nearly rallying to tie the game after falling behind 4-0.
Patrick Dwyer, Alexander Semin and Eric Staal scored for the Hurricanes, who lost for the fourth time in five games despite scoring three goals on Buffalo's Anders Lindback in the final 21:54 of regulation.
"They just got under our skin a little bit early," Dwyer said. "We got it fixed, got desperate, turned things around and made it a game."
Cam Ward stopped 21-of-25 shots in the loss.
The Hurricanes will visit Philadelphia on Thursday before facing the Red Wings again in their season finale on Saturday.