RED WINGS (42-24-14) at BLUE JACKETS (32-35-14)
Last 10 -- Detroit 8-1-1; Columbus 3-4-3
Season series -- This is the sixth and final meeting of the Central Division rivals and the third this month. The Red Wings have won four of the five games. Detroit won, 9-1, in Columbus on Nov. 11 when Niklas Kronwall and Justin Abdelkader each had two goals and Jimmy Howard made 25 saves. The Red Wings won, 2-1, in Detroit on Dec. 26 when Todd Bertuzzi scored twice and Howard made 28 saves. Two days later, Fredrik Modin scored at 3:14 of overtime to give the Blue Jackets a 1-0 win in Columbus. Three Red Wings scored and Howard made 20 saves in a 3-2 victory on April 1 in Detroit. Tomas Holmstrom scored twice and Howard made 21 saves in a 4-3 Red Wings' comeback victory Wednesday in Detroit.
Big story -- Nothing better illustrates the concepts "finding ways to win" and "knowing how to win" than this series this season. The veteran Red Wings, winners of four Stanley Cups since 1997, are 20 points ahead of the Blue Jackets and in fifth place in the Western Conference, while Columbus is 14th. Are they really that far apart? The results, four one-goal games, say otherwise … they also say Detroit has an intangible: Knowing how to win.
Red Wings -- The hottest team in hockey is on its game, going from 10th place in the Western Conference to fifth in about a month. They will try in this game to get General Manager Ken Holland 100 points for the 10th-straight season. After clinching a playoff spot last weekend, the Red Wings had four days off and the rust showed against Columbus on Wednesday. But it took the Red Wings only 1:16 to score three goals to secure the victory that advanced them to fifth place. Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press wrote a whimsical column Thursday about how none of the top four Western seeds appear unbeatable, concluding with: "I don't think anybody wants to play the Red Wings."
Blue Jackets -- A season that began with high hopes ends Friday with the team in disarray. The first coach got fired, and numerous players failed to progress and/or live up to expectations. Even the inspirational late-season bid to secure interim coach Claude Noel's job may have foundered with the 3-4-3 finish. Rick Nash, Antoine Vermette, Kristian Huselius, R.J. Umberger and Jakub Voracek had pretty good seasons. The defense was decimated by injuries and goaltender Steve Mason took a long time to regain his best form after his Calder Memorial Trophy season.
Who's hot -- Blue Jackets left wing Tomas Kana, acquired in December from St. Louis for Pascal Pelletier, got his first two NHL assists in five games Wednesday against Detroit. Centers Michael Blunden and Samuel Pahlsson both had a goal and an assist Wednesday. … Detroit's Kronwall has three points in two games. Holmstrom has nine points in five games. Henrik Zetterberg has 16 points in 14 games. Pavel Datsyuk has seven points in five games.
Injury report -- Columbus left wing Andrew Murray left Wednesday's game with a head injury. Nash missed two games with a neck injury. Chris Clark is out with a knee injury. Jared Boll has missed eight games with a hand injury. Rostislav Klesla has a long-term groin injury. Derek MacKenzie and Jan Hejda have season-ending knee injuries.
Stat pack -- Detroit's eighth-ranked power play, 10th-ranked penalty-kill and seventh-ranked defense are keys to their success because other teams outscore them in 5-on-5 play. … Sunday's finale against the Chicago Blackhawks will be a real test for the goalies because Chicago is first in shots on goal and Detroit is second. … This year is the first time in four years that the Red Wings haven't led the league in faceoff percentage -- they're seventh at 54.1 percent success -- but it's the 12th time in the past 12 years they've finished in the top 10 and only the second time out of the top five. The Red Wings have led the league four times in 12 years and they have won four Stanley Cups in 13 years. Think there's a connection between winning faceoffs, winning games and winning championships? Detroit's record would argue yes.
Puck drop -- Mason's successor as rookie of the year may be in the other net in this game. Howard is challenged by Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene, who leads all rookies with 24 goals and 55 points, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, who leads all rookies with 35 assists and in average minutes per game, and fellow netminder Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins, who has a better goals-against average and save percentage but has played 18 fewer games and has 15 fewer victories. It can be argued that Howard's steady play is the reason Detroit qualified for the playoffs this season.