RED WINGS (44-24-3) at SHARKS (35-25-10)
TV: NBCSN (HD), FS-Detrroit, CSN-California (HD)
Last 10: Detroit 3-6-1; San Jose 3-4-3
Season Series: It's the final meeting between the two -- in the regular season at least. The Red Wings snapped a five-game losing streak to the Sharks with a 3-2 home win on Feb. 19, their 23rd straight win at Joe Louis Arena. The Sharks will try to take the season series for the second year in a row, bracketing their Western Conference Semifinal win in seven games over the Wings last spring.
Big story: This time of year it's traditionally been a Clash of the Titans, the two teams jockeying at the top of the Western Conference for home-ice advantage in a late playoff round lest they face each other. These days, the Sharks are battling just to get into the playoffs and the Wings are limping through a California swing in which the Ducks and Kings outscored them 9-2.
Red Wings: At the time of their last game with San Jose, they were riding a record home winning streak and were at the top of the NHL standings. Two days later, Pavel Datsyuk underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and the team went into a 3-7-1 slide. They've lost three in a row and seven of eight on the road. They arrived in Southern California looking to complete season sweeps of the Kings and Ducks, but ended up getting run out of town. The Blues have opened up an eight-point lead on them in the Central Division and the Predators are drafting a point behind looking to pass them. Now would be a good time for two of the Wings' best players, Datsyuk and captain Nicklas Lidstrom, to come to the rescue.
They'll at least get half of what they wish for. Lidstrom's deep bone bruise in his right ankle, suffered when he was hit by a puck Feb. 25, is not improving. He flew back to Detroit on Thursday to see if additional rest would help. Datsyuk, however, practiced Friday and announced he's good to go.
"I think so, yeah, if nothing happens," he told the Detroit Free Press. "Looking forward to play tomorrow. It's tough to watch hockey, because it's like you always want to play, go with teammates, skate. Every day, it's more tougher and tougher."
The only downside to the story is that Johan Franzen left practice early with back spasms and was reported to be walking "very gingerly" from the training facility after receiving treatment. He's likely to be a game-day decision.
Sharks: The Sharks know exactly what the Wings have been going through with injured stars and were elated to have Martin Havlat back for Thursday's game against the super-stingy Preds. He didn't get on the board, but skated a strong 18:47 and made the first shootout attempt in the 2-1 win.
"Everything is a challenge basically when you come back from a long injury," Havlat told the San Jose Mercury News. "Everybody is going 100 miles an hour. I just have to get in and try to be helpful. Every game right now to the end is very important."
"We're going to see close games like that," Joe Thornton said. "We've been comfortable in those but haven't been winning in the shootout. Tonight, we won in the shootout. Hopefully, we'll get some confidence out of that."
Who's Hot: Valtteri Filppula has 5 points in his last five games. Before Datsyuk went down, he had logged points in five of seven. … Patrick Marleau has an assist in each of his last three games. Thornton scored the lone regulation goal for the Sharks on Thursday and has 8 points in his last five games.
Injury report: Wings backup goalie Joey MacDonald suffered back spasms in Wednesday's 4-0 loss in Anaheim and Jordan Pearce was called up to replace him. Defenseman Jakub Kindl (upper body) is expected back soon, along with fellow blueliner Jonathan Ericsson (fractured left wrist). … For the Sharks, forward Tommy Wingels missed his second straight game with an upper-body injury.
Stat Pack: The Red Wings are on an out-of-character 0-for-28 power-play drought. … Tomas Holmstrom has gone 24 games without a goal. … Neither team has been good at stringing wins together, the Wings having failed to do so since last facing the Sharks, and the Sharks not doing so since Jan. 31-Feb. 2. The Sharks have also not won by more than one goal since a 5-3 win over the Capitals Feb. 13. … Antti Niemi is 7-2-1 with a 2.09 goals-against average in 10 regular-season matchups versus the Wings, while Jimmy Howard has a four-game losing streak against the Sharks. … The Sharks have taken eight of their last 10 games at home from the Wings including playoffs.
Puck Drop: "The biggest thing is we've got to get the team playing. There's 11 games left in the regular season for us. We need to get people back and healthy, and we need to get playing good. But instead of waiting for the cavalry, why not play right now? Where we finish is where we're going to finish, that's just the reality of the situation. But you've got to go in feeling good about yourself to give yourself an opportunity, and I can't imagine we're feeling very good about ourselves right now." -- Mike Babcock in the Free Press on the need to get the team playing well no matter who is in the lineup