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GAME: Detroit Red Wings (42-18-11-2) at Los Angeles Kings (28-22-16-7).

TIME: Saturday, 10:30 p.m. EST.

The Detroit Red Wings are getting healthy. That's not good news for the rest of the league.

Battling for the NHL's best record, Detroit hopes to have defenseman Derian Hatcher back in the lineup when it continues a five-game trip with a stop in Los Angeles against the Kings.

The Red Wings clinched a playoff berth for the 14th consecutive season with a 1-1 tie at Phoenix on Thursday.

Curtis Joseph stopped 28 shots and Brendan Shanahan scored in the second period for Detroit, tied with Tampa Bay for the league's best record and four points ahead of Colorado for first place in the Western Conference.

All-Star center Pavel Datsyuk returned to the lineup earlier than expected for the Red Wings. Datsyuk, who missed six games with a sprained left ankle, wasn't expected back until Saturday or Sunday at Anaheim.

"A couple days early," Detroit coach Dave Lewis said. "It's exciting to watch him play - exciting for the team. He's been such an important part of things all season long."

This has been a difficult first season in Detroit for Hatcher, who missed 64 games with a torn knee ligament before returning March 8. Hatcher injured his shoulder against Calgary on Tuesday, forcing him to sit out Thursday.

"It's a bruised shoulder," Lewis said. "The trainers feel Derian possibly will be available for the weekend. That's a good injury."

Forwards Robert Lang and Kris Draper and defensemen Niklas Kronwall and Mathieu Dandenault are still sidelined for the Red Wings. All four could return for the playoffs.

Detroit has three one-goal wins against Los Angeles this season, and is unbeaten in the last six meetings (5-0-1).

The Kings are one of four teams fighting for one of the final two playoff berths in the West, but would not qualify if the season ended today.

Roman Cechmanek struggled in his return to the lineup Thursday, as the Kings fell 5-3 to San Jose.

In his first game after missing 12 with a groin injury, Cechmanek allowed goals on the first two shots he faced and was pulled after surrendering four goals on 13 shots through 40 minutes.

"We need saves out of our goalies, but I don't want to put all the (blame) on the goaltending," Kings coach Andy Murray said. "We need a lot of people to step up."

Cristobal Huet, 6-4-2 in Cechmanek's absence, is expected to start Saturday.

The Kings have a difficult remaining schedule. Of their final nine opponents, seven will likely be in the postseason and the other two are against playoff-hopeful Edmonton.

STANDINGS (through March 18): Red Wings - 97 points, 1st place, Central Division. Kings - 79 points, 3rd place, 11 PB, Pacific Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Red Wings - Lang, 29 goals, 49 assists and 78 points; Shanahan, 100 PIM. Kings - Alexander Frolov, 23 goals; Jozef Stumpel, 29 assists; Luc Robitaille, 48 points; Sean Avery, 238 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 18): Red Wings - Power play: 20.5 percent (60 for 292), 4th in NHL. Penalty killing: 87.3 percent (247 for 283), 1st. Kings - Power play: 13.8 percent (45 for 326), 27th. Penalty killing: 80.7 percent (251 for 311), 27th.

GOALTENDERS: Red Wings - Curtis Joseph (15-9-3, 2 SO, 2.35 GAA); Manny Legace (19-8-5, 2, 1.95). Kings - Cechmanek (18-17-6, 5, 2.49); Huet (10-11-10, 3, 2.43).

SEASON SERIES: Red Wings, 3-0.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 22; Red Wings, 5-4. At Los Angeles, Brett Hull scored his first goal in 21 games, and Mathieu Schneider had two goals against his former team for Detroit.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Red Wings - 14-12-7-2 on the road; Kings - 15-12-9-1 at home.

Associated Press
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