RED WINGS (30-20-11) at AVALANCHE (32-27-4)
TV: 8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports 2
DENVER -- No matter the venue, whenever the NHL puts on an outdoor game, especially one this late in the season, the players and coaches are always asked about the difficulty between balancing the want to soak in the atmosphere and the need to win the game.
Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene scoffs at that balancing idea. He doesn't think he'll need to worry about that Saturday in the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game against the Detroit Red Wings at Coors Field.
"If you play the game for the right reasons it shouldn't matter, because you play to have fun, play to enjoy your career, and you play to win," Duchene said. "There shouldn't be any adjustment. If anything, it gives you more energy."
There should be plenty of that at Coors Field, from the players creating it on the ice to the fans creating it in the stands and the NHL creating it through musical acts and the use of pyrotechnics to put on a world-class show at the home of the Colorado Rockies.
However, once the puck drops the Avalanche and Red Wings know they have to make positive use out of that energy because balancing act or not, this game is crucial to both teams, just as every one of them will be for the remainder of their regular seasons.
Both teams have four-point cushions as they sit in wild card positions in their respective conferences. The Avalanche are in position to be the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference and the Red Wings are currently the first wild card in the Eastern Conference.
"It's OK to have the buildup, but we need these points," said Red Wings center Brad Richards, who will play in his fifth NHL outdoor regular season game. "We're right there and have a chance to be in a good position, but if you don't watch out here you can be on the outside looking in. It's another two huge points and that's all that's really going to matter when we leave here [Saturday] night. We gotta get those."
Richards can say all that with a little more ease than say Duchene or anybody on the Avalanche because the dynamic in these games is always different between the home teams and the visiting teams.
"As the home team you have a little more pressure," said Red Wings defenseman Mike Green, who was on both the home and road team in his two outdoor games with the Washington Capitals. "There's a little bit more to it, but our routine has been the same."
The Avalanche have clearly had more going on around this game because Denver is their hometown. Their players have been visiting the rink in the past week. They got to skate with their families or girlfriends Thursday. The large majority of the 50,000-plus expected to attend will be clad in burgundy and blue.
But their focus remains the same. Soak it in, enjoy it and get two points.
"Just take in the moment," Duchene said. "It's an important game, obviously, but the more we enjoy the moment, the better we're going to play."
Here are the projected lineups:
Henrik Zetterberg - Pavel Datsyuk - Justin Abdelkader
Dylan Larkin - Andreas Athanasiou - Brad Richards
Tomas Tatar - Riley Sheahan - Gustav Nyquist
Tomas Jurco - Luke Glendenning - Teemu Pulkkinen
Niklas Kronwall - Alexey Marchenko
Jonathan Ericsson - Mike Green
Danny DeKeyser - Kyle Quincey
Injured: Drew Miller (knee)
Scratched: Brendan Smith, Xavier Ouellet, Darren Helm
Alex Tanguay - Nathan MacKinnon - Gabriel Landeskog
Mikhail Grigorenko - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla
Blake Comeau - Carl Soderberg - Shawn Matthias
Cody McLeod - John Mitchell - Jack Skille
Erik Johnson - Francois Beauchemin
Nick Holden - Tyson Barrie
Chris Bigras - Andrew Bodnarchuk
Injured: Jesse Winchester (head), Brad Stuart (back)
Scratched: Zach Redmond, Reto Berra, Andreas Martinsen
Status report: Varlamov will start after sitting out the Avalanche's game Wednesday because of the flu. Colorado recalled Martinsen on Saturday. … Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said on Friday that lineup decisions won't be made until Saturday, but Ericsson is expected to play in his first game since Feb. 12. He has missed the past six games with a lower-body injury.
Who's hot: Iginla has 12 points (five goals) in the past 10 games. … Barrie has five points in the past four games.