PENGUINS (45-19-4) at RED WINGS (31-24-13)
TV: NHLN-US, ROOT, FS-D
Last 10: Pittsburgh 5-4-1; Detroit 5-4-1
Season series: This is the second of three games between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings. Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had a goal and two assists to lead Pittsburgh to a 4-1 win against Detroit at Joe Louis Arena on Dec. 14.
Big story: The Penguins arrive in Detroit trailing the Boston Bruins by five points in the race for for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Though Pittsburgh's place in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is all but secured, the Red Wings are in a fight to qualify for the 23rd consecutive season. They took a big step Tuesday with a 3-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs that moved them one point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wild-card spot and five behind Toronto with two games in hand.
The game against the Penguins begins a stretch of four games in six nights for the Red Wings.
Penguins: The return of forward Chris Kunitz provided a spark to Pittsburgh's top line Tuesday. Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Lee Stempniak combined for eight points and scored four of the Penguins' five goals in a victory against the Dallas Stars at Consol Energy Center.
Acquired from the Calgary Flames at the NHL Trade Deadline, Stempniak has settled in quickly as Crosby's running mate on the right side.
"It's a pretty dangerous line, with those two guys," said Stempniak, who had a goal and two assists. "I'm just trying to fit in."
The Penguins also rebounded from dropping a home-and-home series to the Philadelphia Flyers this past weekend.
''We weren't happy with those losses, we have to do better,'' Crosby said. ''We wanted to make sure we went out there and played hard. It's a desperate team we're playing and hopefully we can build that same emotion, same intensity we had [Tuesday] and carry it over to the rest of the season.''
Red Wings: Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson underwent surgery Wednesday to have pins inserted in his broken left middle finger. With Ericsson out 4-6 weeks, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said he will pair Brendan Smith with Niklas Kronwall.
"He's just got to compete hard and make good decisions with the puck," Babcock told the Macomb Daily. "Smitty's got the competitive nature you need, he's got the skating you need, the skill you need. His decision making with the puck gets him in trouble at times and his decision making being active, so those are things you grow with, you become a better player. Do more by doing less, make the simple play, don't force things, lots of shifts are 50-50, nothing happens."
Who's hot: Penguins backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff is 11-2-1 in his past 14 games. Crosby has seven points (four goals, three assists) in his past five … Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist has 25 points (14 goals, 11 assists) in his past 21 games.
Injury report: Penguins forwards Beau Bennett (wrist surgery), Chris Conner (hand surgery) and Pascal Dupuis (right knee surgery), defensemen Kris Letang (stroke) and Paul Martin (broken hand) and goalie Tomas Vokoun are on injured reserve.
Red Wings forwards Joakim Andersson (broken foot), Daniel Cleary (knee) and Darren Helm (concussion) skated Wednesday with goalie Jonas Gustavsson (groin). Helm has gone three straight skates without an issue, but there remains no time frame on his return. Gustavsson will back up Jimmy Howard on Thursday. Forward Justin Abdelkader (lacerated knee) will be out up to two weeks. Forwards Tomas Jurco (broken rib), Henrik Zetterberg (back surgery), Pavel Datsyuk (knee), Stephen Weiss (hernia surgery) and Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder) remain on IR.
Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNHL
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