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Central: Red Wings catch fire at right time

by Phil Coffey
Red Wings fans who tuned in Monday night to see Detroit in action against the Calgary Flames couldn't help but say, "Now those are the real Red Wings."

Tomas Holmstrom re-directing a Johan Franzen shot with 1:19 left to secure a vital win is indeed what Wings fans have come to expect over the years, and the two points were huge in the standings as they opened a three-point cushion on Calgary and closed within one point of Nashville for the seventh seed in the West.

"It was such a huge win to gain two points on them, but we still can't relax," captain Nicklas Lidstrom told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. "It's going to be tough from here on in, but this was a big win for us."

For sure, but being included in the top eight is a lot easier than being on the outside looking in.

The victory against the Flames was the Red Wings' third straight, their first such streak since the middle of December.

"It's a good win for us," coach Mike Babcock said. "If we play good, we're going to get into the playoffs, so that's what we try to do. What I like is, I think we've won seven of our last nine. It looks like we're going in the right direction."

Adjusting without Campbell -- At first blush you might think the Chicago Blackhawks could replace Brian Campbell without missing a beat thanks to the length and breadth of the team's depth.

But Campbell is a big-time player who averaged more than 23 minutes per game, so coming to grips with his loss to a broken collarbone will take some doing. Chicago already has placed NHL veteran Nick Boynton on re-entry waivers in order to recall him from the minors. Coupled with an upper-body injury to Kim Johnsson, the Blackhawks' defensive depth is being tested, with Brent Seabrook, Brent Sopel, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jordan Hendry logging more minutes.

Those defensemen will be tested on the team's West Coast trip, which includes games against the Ducks Wednesday, the Kings Thursday and the Coyotes Saturday. The Hawks have lost three of their last four.

Hartnell, Timonen return -- Nashville Predators GM David Poile has fond feelings for Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen, who return to Nashville with the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday night. Circumstances at the time forced Poile to deal the rights to both players to the Flyers for a first-round draft pick in 2007.

"He was and still is a real good player in the NHL, so that was not my favorite day to see him go. Scott Hartnell was just starting to develop into the player we had drafted," Poile told John Glennon of The Tennessean. "It was just the circumstances that sometimes revolve around an organization.''

The circumstances were too many players to sign and a changing ownership situation.

"There's no question that you look back and you say, 'If all those guys could still be with you … '" coach Barry Trotz said. "But that wasn't the mandate from ownership at the time, so you had to make tough decisions.''

"I am sure there will be a lot of emotions," Hartnell said of his return. "I miss the fans and I miss the city. I will probably hit up Broadway there and see some live music and enjoy that part of the city. When I played there I went down there once or twice every couple of weeks and just sat there for an afternoon."

Personal gain, but team pain -- Antoine Vermette told Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch that any personal satisfaction derived from having a career season for the Blue Jackets has been put on the backburner because Columbus won't make the playoffs.

"I won't lie. It's a tough situation to be in," Vermette told Portzline. "I remember last season coming to Columbus (from Ottawa at the trade deadline). That was so much fun.

"I didn't have as many points at the end of the season, but it was a much more rewarding season."

Vermette has produced a career high 55 points this season and he is three goals shy of 25 for the season. He credits the increased production to the extra minutes he has earned in Columbus.

"My role has definitely increased here," Vermette said. "It's better quality minutes, more offensive hockey. I get to play with more gifted players, and it makes a big difference.

"I feel very, very comfortable at center. That's my natural position. I feel free there, like I can express myself and manage my speed better at center."

No time like the present --
The St. Louis Blues haven't fared well against the Colorado Avalanche this season and that trend needs to stop Tuesday night. The Avs have won three straight against St. Louis, and with just 14 games remaining in the season, the Blues need all the points they can get to leapfrog Calgary (four points behind) and challenge the Red Wings (seven points back) for the last playoff berth in the West.

"For whatever reason, we're struggling against them," Blues forward Keith Tkachuk told Dan O'Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Obviously, they've played well against us. They've scored lots of goals, they've got a lot of great young players, and they're getting great goaltending. It's a do-or-die situation for us starting (Tuesday) night."

"You're dealing with a high-pressure team, a team that works hard," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We have to be prepared to play at that pace right from the start. We have to be prepared to play physical, and if you're not, they're the type of team that can take advantage of that.

"The pace of what Detroit, Calgary and Nashville are doing makes it more important that we play better hockey -- and that's all we can do." -- Blues coach Davis Payne

"There's still 28 points out there and we've got to grab a high percentage of those. We also know that we're going to have some head-to-head matchups as we continue to march along.

"The pace of what Detroit, Calgary and Nashville are doing makes it more important that we play better hockey -- and that's all we can do."

Around the Central --
The Red Wings as a whole are heating up, but Todd Bertuzzi (no goals in 18 games) and Dan Cleary (1 goal in 13 games) are slumping big time. "It's frustrating," Bertuzzi told the Free Press. "It's a little different when you only play 10-13 minutes, but I have to shoot more." … Predators goalie Pekka Rinne was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week after going 2-0-0 with a 1.44 goals-against average, .943 save percentage and one shutout in three road appearances. … At least Jan Hejda got to fulfil a dream by playing in the Olympics because the rest of the season has been a nightmare for the Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman. A sprained right knee suffered against the Edmonton Oilers may cost him the rest of the season.
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