The Detroit Red Wings host the Nashville Predators this afternoon in the eighth and final meeting between the two Central Division teams this regular season.
The Wings hold a 4-3 edge over the Preds thus far in the series, with wins on November 7th (3-2 SO), December 10th (2-1), March 9 (4-3), and March 20th (6-3). The Predators won November 22nd (3-2), February 12th (4-2), and March 15th (3-1).
The Predators are 7-6-0 in March. They have won their last three, beginning with a 2-1 shootout win over Chicago on the 22nd and continuing with a pair of wins over Columbus on the 25th (3-0) and 28th (2-0).
Prior to that, they had lost two in a row, first to Washington, then to Detroit.
Nashville is currently in eighth place with 86 points through 78 games. Ninth-place and idle Vancouver also has 86 point through 78 and would move into eighth place with a Nashville regulation or overtime loss if they are able to beat the Flames tonight.
For the Predators, then, this game is especially important.
The Preds' remaining schedule consists of two games against St. Louis and a finale in Chicago.
Nashville will be without Darcy Hordichuk (knee), Greg de Vries (rib), David Legwand (foot), Steve Sullivan (back), Martin Gelinas (knee), and Jed Ortmeyer (knee).
Dan Ellis will be in net tonight. He has shutout opponents for the last 170:18.
The Wings are 9-2-1 in March.
They are coming off a 4-3 overtime loss to St. Louis Friday night at home. They staged a thrid period comeback, but couldn't hold the Blues off in the extra period.
Prior to the loss, they had won four in a row. The two regulation losses came together on the 15th and 16th and halted the five-game winning streak with which they began the month.
Detroit occupies first place overall with 109 points in 78 games and has a five-point lead on the San Jose Sharks, who have also played 78.
The Sharks can max out at 112 points and 51 wins. Given that they are red-hot lately, that is not outside the realm of possibility. So, the Wings would need at least three more points, two of which must come from a win (112 points, but 52 wins), in order to clinch. Otherwise, a Red Wings win and a Sharks loss will clinch first place for Detroit.
The Wings will be without Mikael Samuelsson (groin) for the second consecutive game.
Tomas Holmstrom (abdomen, groin) remains out, but could be close to returning. He had a cortisone shot Friday and apparently zipped around practice yesterday wearing a no-contact sweater.
Brad Stuart (broken finger) remains out, but is keeping up his conditioning and should be back for the first round.
Darren McCarty will sit today in favor of Aaron Downey. Mark Hartigan also inexplicably remains in the lineup.
Over at A2Y, IwoCPO asks a legitimate question: "Answer me this: if Babcock’s trying to figure out if McCarty’s able to add something to the playoff mix, why is he out today and Hartigan in?"
Dominik Hasek will start today after sitting out with the flu. Chris Osgood will back him up.
For more of the Wings' perspective, see Snapshots, Abel to Yzerman, HockeyTownTodd, Behind the Jersey, No Pun Intended, yzerman is god, Detroit Hockey, LetsGoWings, Red Wings Brasil, BR Red Wings, and Winging It In Motown.
The Predators will go into this game knowing that they need a win to keep their grip on eighth place.
The Wings go in knowing they can't let the foot off the pedal with San Jose looking to finish their 12-0-2 month off with a win. They also know that they can't demonstrate weakness to a likely first round opponent.
A win here will be a key moral victory for both teams, so you can expect solid competition this afternoon.