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Crucial points on the line for Red Wings, Blue Jackets

by David Kalan

RED WINGS (33-24-14) at BLUE JACKETS (36-29-6)


Last 10: Detroit 5-3-2; Columbus 5-4-1

Season series: This is the third of three games this season between the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets. They split their prior two meetings, with Columbus taking the most-recent one 4-1 on March 11 at Nationwide Arena.

Big story: When the Red Wings and Blue Jackets flipped conferences this past offseason, the one familiar aspect of it might have been that the division rivals were making the jump together. Detroit and Columbus are no longer in the same division, but their final game against each other this season should have a postseason atmosphere. The familiar foes face off for two points that will prove pivotal if either team is going to grab one of the Eastern Conference's two wild-card spots in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Team Scope:

Red Wings: Detroit's League-best streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances is in jeopardy, but considering the amount of injuries the Red Wings are dealing with, that their postseason hopes are even alive might be an accomplishment. Several of the Red Wings' top-six forwards are battling injuries, while defenseman Jonathan Ericsson's season-ending surgery on a broken finger has thinned Detroit on the back end as well.

Despite those massive obstacles, Detroit currently occupies the East's top wild-card spot after winning three of its past four games, but the Red Wings' place in the postseason is anything but certain. Columbus and the Washington Capitals are both on Detroit's heels; they are two and one point back, respectively.

"These are huge [games] and this is what it's going to come down to and who is going to make the playoffs, who is going to be the best team out there," forward Gustav Nyquist said. "I think we're playing all the teams that are around us in the standings. That’s pretty much going to decide whose gonna be in."

Blue Jackets: Points are at a premium for the Blue Jackets, particularly when playing direct competitors for a postseason spot. Unfortunately for Columbus, the search for the franchise's second-ever playoff berth took a massive hit this past weekend, as the Jackets lost at home against the New York Rangers and Rick Nash, who was making his first trip back to Nationwide Arena after playing the first nine seasons of his career with the team, and then missed a valuable opportunity to pick up two points on Sunday against the cellar-dwelling New York Islanders.

Columbus has one regulation win in its past six games, dropping it outside of the East's top eight, though the Blue Jackets do currently have the tiebreaker over Detroit with more regulation and overtime wins. One of the culprits for Columbus' skid might be its slumping power play, which is 0-for-its-past 35 opportunities. As a result, special teams were a major emphasis for the Blue Jackets at practice on Monday.

"You can't just sweep it under the rug and act like it hasn't happened," coach Todd Richards said. "We have to talk about it, work at it, and to me it's about controlling the emotions, too. We might come out tomorrow [against Detroit] on our first power play and we might not be able to get it in the zone ... we can't let the lack of success affect us, because if it affects you on the first one, it's going to affect you on the second one and the third."

Who's hot: Nyquist was named the NHL's First Star of the Week after scoring six goals and adding an assist in the past four games. ... Despite the Blue Jackets' offensive struggles, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has remained strong, recording a .933 save percentage over the past three games.

Injury report: Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi (flu) is questionable, while forwards Justin Abdelkader (leg), Tomas Jurco (rib), Pavel Datsyuk (inflamed knee), Henrik Zetterberg (herniated disc surgery), Stephen Weiss (sports hernia), Daniel Cleary (sprained knee) and Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder) are all out; Datsyuk tweeted Monday that he's resumed skating and hopes to play soon. Ericsson (broken finger) is out for the season. … Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray (lower body) is out.

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