The Detroit Red Wings are fresh off their fifth come-from-behind victory of the season, and they are presented with an amazing opportunity. The Wings' victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday was the team's second in a row, and the squad is 5-2-3 over its last 10 contests, picking up 13 out of a potential 20 points.
The Red Wings currently sit third in the Atlantic division, and they are in a unique position to continue climbing the standings. Detroit has played two fewer games than the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning, coincidentally both of these teams ahead of them in the division.
With a 10-4-5 record and 25 points in 19 games, a victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs would bump the team up to 27 points in 20 games, and it would give the team a chance to surpass Tampa Bay once the two teams were even in number of games played.
A victory would also give Detroit its third victory of the year against the Maple Leafs, which could become a very important chip to store away for later.
Toronto is a team that could be clawing for a playoff spot, and if things end up tied, having that win tiebreaker over the Leafs would become really handy for Mike Babcock and the Red Wings.
The Red Wings dispatched the Leafs 4-1 back on October 17, and they edged Toronto again the next night with a 1-0 win in overtime. Thus far the Leafs are averaging 3.15 goals per game, the third highest in the NHL, and Detroit is allowing a minuscule 2.21 goals per game.
Despite the fact that Toronto's offense has been great this season, the Leafs have only scored a single goal against the Red Wings.
For whatever reason, Toronto's sticks seem to quiet down against the Red Wings, and Detroit's top netminder Jimmy Howard will be ready for action after Petr Mrazek was able to get him a night off by starting against the Jets.
During the Wings' first game against Toronto, the defense had no answer for team captain Henrik Zetterberg, who ended up tallying four assists during that game. Zetterberg currently has 17 points in 19 games played, and he's a player that the Leafs will desperately try to shut down.
In addition to worrying about Zetterberg, the Leafs could have to worry about Pavel Datsyuk, because according to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, the Magic Man could return on Saturday:
Even if Datsyuk misses another game it won't be a huge loss for Detroit, as the team is 6-1-2 without its most creative player out of the lineup. The Wings have played the Leafs well this season, but it will be important to set the tone early.
After getting beaten spanked 6-2 vs. the Buffalo Sabres and embarrassed 9-2 vs. the Nashville Predators, the Leafs followed up with a 4-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was hardly an impressive victory, as they almost gave the game away in the third period.
You can expect the Leafs to look to string another victory together, especially when you consider the current mood in Toronto. Fans are starting to get antsy, and they want their team playing consistent hockey.
Another bad showing could add some coals to the "fire Randy Carlyle" movement, although win or lose most fans probably want him out of Toronto more than they did soon-to-be ex-Mayor Rob Ford.
Ultimately the Red Wings are in a situation in which they can give themselves some major breathing room. Picking up divisional points while having extra games in hand can go a long way toward solidifying a playoff spot.
Surpassing the Bruins was a solid accomplishment, but sliding into second place would be an even bigger deal. The Wings will need two more wins and another Tampa loss to accomplish that, but at the very least they could inch closer to tying them in win percentage.
Things are clearly trending up for the Wings, and after being one of the few teams to pump Ondrej Pavelec for multiple goals this season, something I didn't think I would be typing this year, the Wings have to be hungry to do the same to Jonathan Bernier or James Reimer, or potentially both of them.
Saturday's Hockey Night in Canada should be a great matchup, and it could be one of Detroit's most important games so far this season because of the implications it could have on the Red Wings in the standings.
Stats unless noted are via NHL.com.