The calendar has reached April and the Detroit Red Wings are a team to be feared once again in the Western Conference.
Tomas Holmstrom and Pavel Datsyuk each registered a goal and an assist Thursday night as the Red Wings edged the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 at Joe Louis Arena for their season-best seventh straight win of the season.
Todd Bertuzzi's goal 1:13 into the third period held up as the game-winner and Jimmy Howard stopped 20 shots to improve the Wings to 14-2-1 in their last 17 games. They remained within a point of the Predators for fifth in the West, with the Central Division rivals set to meet Saturday night at the Joe.
"We'd like to be in position to go past them if we possibly could," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We just want to keep getting better. To win at playoff time you've got to be patient, you've got to be relentless."
Datsyuk scored the go-ahead goal at 8:08 of the second, using some fancy stickhandling to maneuver past Jackets defenseman Mike Commodore in the right circle before sending a wrister from the slot past goalie Steve Mason.
Bertuzzi, a veteran who has managed to remain healthy all season amidst the rash of injuries inflicted upon Detroit players, increased the lead on a play that required video review. The officials originally ruled no goal after a Henrik Zetterberg feed went in off the skate of Bertuzzi, who was cruising through the crease, but after the war room in Toronto took a second look it was ruled there had been no distinct kicking motion and a goal was awarded.
"Kind of like a poor man's Tommy Holmstrom," Bertuzzi said about his play around the net. "He's so good at it. It's good to have a guy that is so good in front of the net, and you watch what he does ... since I've got to go in front of there you pick up little things and all that."
The reversed call proved crucial when R.J. Umberger tipped in Fedor Tyutin's shot for a power-play goal with 1:13 remaining and Mason on the bench, creating a 6-on-4 skating advantage.
"We had some good chances ... Howard made some good saves and they booted one in for the winner," Commodore said.
Holmstrom got Detroit on the board first, jamming the puck in from the side of the net at 2:21 of the first period.
Columbus, which has played strong hockey down the stretch and recently completed a home-and-home sweep of Chicago, evened the score at 7:09 on a score by Andrew Murray. Derek Dorsett broke up an attempted pass by Howard and the puck came to Murray below the left circle for a shot that got past the goalie.
"Every single game, even when we had guys out injured, teams still wanted to beat us just because we're the Red Wings," Howard said. "We see everyone's 'A' game every single night and it's really helped us here down the stretch and it'll help us going into the playoffs."
Predators 3, Blues 2 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS
Steve Sullivan scored 6:05 into the third period and Pekka Rinne made 31 saves as Nashville won on home ice to retain the No. 5 seed and also move to within one point of clinching a return trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing out last season.
It could happen with the Predators idle on Friday if the Avalanche beat the Flames. If that doesn't happen, they can take care of their own business Saturday by winning in Detroit.
"We're not looking at it saying, 'You need so many points to get in, let's just get to it,'" Sullivan said. "We want to make sure we're playing the best hockey going into the playoffs. If we're just trying to sneak in, it'll be a quick first-round exit, and that's not what we want."
Dustin Boyd and Colin Wilson also scored as Nashville rallied from a two-goal deficit and pushed St. Louis closer to playoff elimination. The Blues are six points out with five games remaining.
"We pretty much needed to win out," Blues forward David Backes said. "It's not entirely over, but it made our road just that much harder. We still have five games to play ... we will hopefully win all five and get out 10 points and with help from other teams have a shot."
They got the early jump on goals by Alex Steen and Andy McDonald but Rinne shut the door after that.
Patric Hornqvist, already a 30-goal scorer in his first full NHL season, became the first Nashville player this season to eclipse 50 points with a three-assist performance. On the go-ahead goal, Sullivan tracked down Hornqvist's flip down the ice and put a wrist shot between the post and outstretched glove of former teammate Chris Mason.
"It was probably beneficial to me since Mase didn't have a chance to get set and read what I was going to do because it took me so long to get control," Sullivan said.
Hornqvist won a battle for the puck with Blues defenseman Erik Johnson that allowed the Predators to tie the score with just 3.5 seconds left in the middle period. Wilson was able to find the loose puck while trailing the play, and he scored on a backhander.
"That had to hurt them," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "It gave us a boost."
St. Louis opened the scoring in the first period on a goal that didn't please Trotz or Rinne. They felt the goalie was being interfered with by Backes, allowing Steen's power-play slap shot from the blue line at the 7:13 mark to enter the net as Rinne was being knocked to the ice.
"Right now I'm happy we won the game, and it's no big deal. If the game (was) the other way around, I would be pretty mad to be honest," Rinne said.
McDonald doubled the Blues' lead 3:11 into the second and the Predators saw their home scoring drought reach 191 minutes, 44 seconds, before a Cody Franson shot at 11:12 was deflected in by Boyd.
Maple Leafs 4, Sabres 2 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS
Toronto finally solved Ryan Miller and continued its late push to escape the Eastern Conference cellar.
Luke Schenn scored the go-ahead goal in the third period on a shot his coach described as a "knuckleball" and fellow defenseman Garnet Exelby ended a long goal drought as the Maple Leafs picked up the victory at Air Canada Centre.
Viktor Stalberg opened the scoring and Fredrik Sjostrom added an empty-netter for the Maple Leafs, who beat Miller and the Sabres for the first time this season.
"It's a good thing to get off our back coming into next year," Stalberg said. "We want to show them what this team is going to be about the next couple years here."
Derek Roy and Steve Montador had goals for the Sabres, who erased a pair of one-goal deficits. But Schenn put the Leafs in front to stay at 8:30 of the third when his shot went off the stick of Buffalo forward Raffi Torres and over the shoulder of Miller.
"I was a little bit surprised to see it go in," Schenn said. "I think it hit one of their sticks on the way in. A bit of a lucky goal, but I'll take it."
Sjostrom added the final tally with 37 seconds remaining and Jean-Sebastien Giguere finished with 22 saves.
Stalberg beat Miller to the glove side 10:51 into the first for his eighth of the season and third against the U.S. Olympic hero.
"I think that's just a matter of getting a little luck against him," Stalberg said. "He's a great goaltender, probably the best in this League. It's a little confidence boost for me scoring a lot on him."
A power-play goal by Roy 1:55 later tied the score. Exelby put the Leafs ahead for a second time 4:52 into the second with his first goal since Dec. 18, 2007.
"I don't score a lot of goals," said Exelby, who has seven in 405 career NHL games. "I probably remember every single one of them."
Once again, the Sabres had a quick reply as Montador needed just 1:31 to beat Giguere for a 2-2 score. Buffalo never found the lead, however.
"They played a more organized game than we did, that's for sure," Miller said. "We got ourselves in penalty trouble, we got ourselves in trouble in our own end, we got outshot. Terrible effort."
Islanders 6, Flyers 4 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS
Blake Comeau scored a pair of first-period goals as New York raced to leads of 4-0 and 5-1 en route to ending Philadelphia's 15-game winning streak in the season series.
The Flyers missed an opportunity to take sixth place in the Eastern Conference all to themselves, and instead remained deadlocked with the Canadiens and Bruins for the final three playoff spots -- just two points ahead of the ninth-place Thrashers and four up on the Rangers.
For the full NHL.com game story, click here.
Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.