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Central: Are healthy Wings ready to run?

by Phil Coffey
A 5-4 win may not be the dominating type of victory we are used to seeing from the Detroit Red Wings, but Mike Babcock and Ken Holland aren't going to deduct style points for earning a pair in the standings against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.

And you have to like the determination that comes with rallying from two down by scoring a five-spot in the second period.

But what you may have to like best is the Red Wings showed their stuff with a primarily healthy lineup Sunday. Tomas Holmstrom was there, Johan Franzen was there and Niklas Kronwall was there. Valtteri Filppula, Jason Williams, and Andreas Lilja too.

"I thought Fil and Bertuzzi together were really good for us tonight, really got going," Babcock said. "And then obviously, Pav and Homer and Mule have been excellent for us, and I thought Z and Clears and those guys chipped in as well. That was good. Helmer's group had a real good night the other night, and that's what you need, you need everyone on deck."

And after a season of looking for enough healthy bodies to simply man the decks, it was a relief for Babcock to have to tick off so many names.

"It's way easier to be more confident when you've got more good players," Babcock told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. "It's pretty straightforward. When your power play goes on the ice, it's dangerous. There are people that are killing momentum. ... The big thing is, we've got to keep building on what we've got going here. We've won four or five. We've got to continue to do that. If you play well over a stretch of time, you earn the right to feel good about yourself."

Still, Babcock isn't going to declare the patient cured just yet, however.

"I think we have a good team here, but a good team is a team that arrives every day and plays," Babcock said. "We've won four out of our last five. Now, can we win four out of the next five? Then we would have won eight of 10 and we'd look like a hockey club."

Mutual-admiration society -- The Red Wings and Blackhawks have been exceedingly polite to one another this season, in the media, anyway.

After blowing a two-goal lead Sunday, the Hawks were kicking themselves for forgetting who the opponent was.

"Against a team like that, we put it on cruise and we paid for it really quickly," Kris Versteeg said.

"It doesn't matter who's in their lineup, they play the same way, they play the right way, and we just need to be better than that," Jonathan Toews said.

"You've got to keep that pressure up. At the same time, you don't feel it was that much different in the second, it was just that one thing led to another. We kind of got frustrated, stopped talking on the bench, and stopped doing the things that we had to do."

"They're still the team to beat in the West," Andrew Ladd said. "I don't care what anyone says. They have the lineup to do it. They dealt with a lot of injuries this year and have managed to stay right in the playoff hunt. It was a test for us, and we didn't meet that."

Mike Babcock offered some empathy to the Hawks about the agita among the fans regarding Chicago's goaltending.

"The thing with (Cristobal) Huet is much like what's going on in our net," Babcock told reporters. "When you never face any shots and then you miss some, it's always your (the goalie's) fault. Then you have to be really mentally tough to carry that.

"They know it's going to be like that going into the playoffs. We've been through that year after year. You just have to find a way to win. When things like this happen, the first thing is to blame it all on the goalie. This is a team. We're all in it together."

Every loss hurts -- The Nashville Predators have little margin for error when it comes to seeing hockey in late April. The Colorado Avalanche are up five points on Nashville, and Detroit and Calgary are right on the Preds' heels. So losing to a road-tripping Canucks team Sunday at home was a bitter blow.

"Down the stretch here, we're going to need goaltending," coach Barry Trotz told John Glennon of The Tennessean. "That's plain and simple. Any team that's going to make the playoffs is going to need good goaltending."

As you can infer, Trotz didn't get it from Pekka Rinne against the Canucks, especially on a sideboard slapper from Mikael Samuelsson that went off Rinne's arm and into the net.

"That was the kind of timing where we needed that save," defenseman Dan Hamhuis said. "When those weak goals happen, it is tough on the rest of the team and I'm sure (Rinne) would like to have that one back."

Making matter worse for the Preds is defenseman Shea Weber missed the game with an upper-body injury and is likely to miss more time.

"He's still day to day, but he's probably doubtful for Atlanta (on Tuesday)," Trotz said. "He was in this morning and there was some pretty good progress, so hopefully it's not too long."

Well said -- "Our season is 31 days, plain and simple. If we're good in those 31 days, our season will be extended and hopefully for a long time. If we're not really good in those 31 days, then that's the end." -- Predators coach Barry Trotz summing up the stretch drive for The Tennessean's John Glennon.

Payne urges defense -- After absorbing a 7-3 loss to Colorado on Saturday, St. Louis Blues coach Davis Payne knew all too well what he wisdom he had to impart on his players.

"Defensive awareness, defensive positioning, defensive response ... plays with the puck that we had that we didn't make ... just the overall intensity of our game," Payne told Norm Sanders of the Belleville News-Democrat. "I think we're still generating some of those (offensive) opportunities, we still generated another 20 of them against Colorado. But the number that we gave up ... we're not happy with."

Defenseman Erik Johnson and forward Andy McDonald were each minus-4 against the Avalanche and defenseman Eric Brewer and forward T.J. Oshie each were minus-3.

"It's taking what did and didn't do, making sure we learned a lesson, make sure we snap back to attention," Payne said. "We're going to look at it, we're going to learn from it ... we're going to carry the lessons forward, but we're going to leave that game right where it was.

"We're going to be a smarter team, we're going to be a more defensively committed team and we're going to limit (their) offensive opportunities."

Jackets look for 'O' from 'D' -- Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson sees a better offense as a priority for next season's team. "We have to get more offense out of the team," Howson told Tom Reed of the Columbus Dispatch after a 2-1 loss to San Jose on Saturday night. "What you saw (Saturday) was a prime example. We got great goaltending from (Steve Mason), but couldn't create enough chances to win."

The offense didn't get any better in a 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night.

Howson may look to add a point producer on defense, where Columbus has a number of defensive defensemen.

"I know we have a lot of defensemen and we can't have that many long-term contracts with some of the guys we now are getting into the system," Howson said. Four defenders are signed through at least 2011-12 -- Rostislav Klesla, Kris Russell, Fedor Tyutin and Mike Commodore.

"To add we will have to subtract and what we do remains to be determined," Howson said. "Maybe it's a trade, maybe there is a trade that makes sense to help the back end.

"I still believe in this team," Howson said. "I think the players we have here give us the makings of a good team. It is important for us to prove that in the fall and to create a positive feeling for ourselves the rest of the way this season."

Around the Central -- The Predators learned they would be without defenseman Denis Grebeshkov for at least one to two weeks because of a lower-body injury he suffered in Sunday's loss to Vancouver. He apparently was hurt early in the game and tried to play through it. ... St. Louis' Brad Boyes on hearing his name in trade rumors prior to the deadline: "It was disappointing when you hear your name was put out there," he said. "I can't control that. What can you say about it? I'm happy to still be here. I love playing here. You just have to go out and keep playing." ... Comcast SportsNet Chicago delivered its highest Hawks regular-season rating Friday with a 4.35 household rating for the game against the Canucks. During the Hawks' 6-3 win, CSN attracted approximately 152,294 households for the entire game and posted a 5.18 peak rating during the 8:45 p.m. quarter-hour (181,352 households), according to Nielsen Media Research overnights. ... Blue Jackets center Derick Brassard returned to the lineup Monday night after missing the previous two games because of an infection in his left hand. Brassard burned the hand while he was repairing a stick between periods of the Feb.14 game against Chicago. The knob of his stick, covered in hot glue, fell from a work table, and Brassard reached out to catch it.

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