Despite a game effort by the Kings, who played their second in as many nights and didn't have suspended captain Dustin Brown, the Red Wings chalked up a big 3-1 win at Joe Louis Arena to edge one point ahead of the idle Columbus Blue Jackets into eighth place in the Western Conference.
"Our problem hasn't been giving up goals, our problem has been scoring goals," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "Tonight we were able to get three, which is real positive for us. For a long time we lost games because we could never get the next one. I thought we played well. [You've] got to score goals."
Pavel Datsyuk, Jordin Tootoo and Johan Franzen scored the goals for the Red Wings (22-16-8), who took a big step toward extending their run of 21 straight seasons qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Detroit (52 points) and Columbus (51) each have two games left and will sprint to the finish vying for the West's final playoff spot with the Dallas Stars (48 points) just off the pace. The Blue Jackets face the Stars on the road Thursday, and the Red Wings will play host to the Nashville Predators to conclude their final back-to-back set of the season.
Detroit will end its season Saturday in Dallas, and Columbus is home against Nashville in what could be a photo finish of sorts for the last postseason berth.
"We still have two more games to go here," said Tootoo, whose goal early in the third period put Detroit up 2-1 and led to Franzen's insurance marker midway through the final 20 minutes. "It's a matter of playing [Thursday] night here. We need points every night. [Against Nashville] the first five minutes are going to be absolutely important for us. We played tonight and Nashville hasn't. It's going to be all about good leadership in the dressing room and making good plays."
Kyle Clifford scored the goal for the Kings (26-16-5), who've lost two in a row and were fourth in the West coming into the game, tied with the San Jose Sharks at 57 points. Los Angeles has one game left, against San Jose, to make a bid for home ice in the quarterfinal round.
The Kings will again be without Brown, who was issued a two-game suspension by the NHL for elbowing Minnesota Wild forward Jason Pominville during Tuesday's game. Tyler Toffoli was called up from Manchester of the American Hockey League on Wednesday and played on the right side of center Anze Kopitar.
"I guess if you got [home ice], it would be important," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "Last year we were hanging on for the eighth spot and [this year] we clinched sixth two or three games ago. That's the only difference."
Goaltender Jonathan Quick took the loss, making 33 saves and keeping the Kings in the game when the Red Wings dominated the action early. Jimmy Howard picked up the win by making 23 saves and thwarting several prime scoring chances in the first two periods that could've swung momentum toward the visitors.
The atmosphere in the arena was akin to a playoff game, which makes sense considering how vital each point is to the Red Wings.
"It's important to get the points, get wins and get them in regulation time," said Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg, who assisted on the goals by Datsyuk and Franzen. "[We've] got two games left, focus [Thursday] and win that one and then move on to Dallas."
The Red Wings came out as strong as expected. They led 13-4 in shots after 20 minutes, but the game was scoreless thanks to some outstanding work in net by Quick and a heady play by Detroit's Brendan Smith midway through to stop a sure goal by Mike Richards off a rebound of Toffoli's slap shot from the right circle.
Los Angeles didn't get a shot on goal until nearly four minutes into the game and by that point Detroit had put six on target. The Kings were credited with two power plays in the first period, but one lasted 10 seconds and the second was killed off without a shot on goal.
Detroit also carried the play early in the second until Clifford's sixth goals of the season put Los Angeles up 1-0 at 5:28, when he put home a rebound of Trevor Lewis' stuff attempt at the side of the net.
Datsyuk evened it 1-1 at 10:32 with his 14th goal of the season, and it was a pretty one.
After Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson threw a shot toward the net from near the half wall, Quick deflected the puck to Datsyuk on the left side of the net. Quick saw it and did the splits, but the Detroit center backhanded a shot underneath him into the net.
"It was nice to see the right guy got the puck there," Zetterberg said. "He had some patience."
That's how it stayed until 5:42 into the third, when Tootoo tipped a slap shot by Patrick Eaves in the slot and watched it go into the net. Franzen made it 3-1 on a power play with 6:26 left by tapping a perfect pass from Zetterberg through the pads.
Franzen, who might've been injured sometime after his goal, was unavailable to return. The goal was his sixth in the past six games and 11th point in April, so losing him would be a big blow.
"He's been real good for us," Babcock said. "He didn't finish the game, but hopefully he'll be fine for [Thursday]. Don't know a whole bunch. They just took him off the bench, or made him sit on the bench. I couldn't use him down the stretch. I'll find out [Thursday]."
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