RED WINGS (25-19-12) at PANTHERS (22-27-7)
TV: FS-D, FS-F
Last 10: Detroit 5-3-2; Florida 4-6-0
Big story: Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk, who missed the past 14 games with a lower-body injury, will make his return Thursday.
"Sooner or later, I needed to start," Datsyuk said. "I waited enough. We'll see what happens tonight."
Red Wings: Detroit is 6-6-2 without Datsyuk and a return by its top playmaker could help ward off the Eastern Conference teams gunning for the final wild-card spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Red Wings (62 points) hold the tiebreaker over the Philadelphia Flyers (62 points), having played one fewer game.
"We need Pav, he's one of our best players," general manager Ken Holland told detroitredwings.com on Wednesday. "He's a dynamic player as well. When he's out there he takes a lot of attention off some other players. I think that's going to be good for the other guys."
Panthers: Florida (51 points) has a steep hill to climb to make the playoffs, but the Panthers can help their cause by playing the way they did on Tuesday. They turned in one of their most complete efforts in defeating the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1. The Maple Leafs (66 points) hold the top wild card spot in the East.
The Panthers travel to play the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday in the final game on their schedule before the NHL takes a 16-day break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Most of the leaders on the team are aware of the tough road ahead, but are taking it one game at a time.
"Obviously we're a ways away. We're trying to get up there. We need to win, win in bunches," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "Hopefully we can finish this pre-Olympic break strong here."
Who's hot: Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg has two goals and 10 assists in his past seven games. … Campbell has three assists in his past two games for the Panthers.
Injury report: Red Wings defenseman Jakub Kindl will sit due to a lower-body injury suffered Monday in a 2-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday. Backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson (dizziness) could not finish the game against Vancouver but did travel to Florida and participated in practice Wednesday. Center Stephen Weiss (sports hernia surgery) and right wing Johan Franzen are on injured reserve. … Panthers defenseman Mike Mottau (leg) has not played since Dec. 3.
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