DETROIT (AP) - The Detroit Red Wings surged past Nashville in both the NHL and Central Division standings with a pair of wins.
Less than a month before the playoffs, Detroit coach Mike Babcock isn't sure that matters. "Is there a team we want to play in the first round?" Babcock asked Wednesday following a 4-2 victory over the Predators. "No. They're all too good.
"In the Western Conference last year, the top four seeds lost in the first round. Well, the West is even closer than it was last year."
Jiri Hudler scored twice, including the go-ahead goal, a night after his goal was the winner in Detroit's 5-2 win in Nashville.
"I thought we did a good job against their top guys," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "(Pavel) Datsyuk didn't really hurt us in the two games.
"Hudler is not the first guy you think of, but he really hurt us. He was the difference in both games."
Hudler made it 3-2 early in the third period after tying the game with 3:37 left in the second.
Both teams competed with playoff-like intensity and that led to plenty of checking, shoving, swinging gloves and trash talk.
"It's always tough to play against them because the games make a difference," Nashville's Kimmo Timonen said. "It's like a playoff game for us - and for them."
Nashville went ahead on goals by Alexander Radulov in the first, and Jason Arnott in the second but the Red Wings responded each time.
Nicklas Lidstrom made it 1-1 early in the second and Hudler scored off a rebound late in the period.
On the go-ahead goal, Hudler charged to the net and beat Chris Mason on his short side with a shot from the bottom of the right circle off Robert Lang's pass.
"I'm having a blast," Hudler said.
Nashville had a power play with 6:17 left, but didn't get off a shot. Shortly after Mason went off for an extra skater, Kirk Maltby scored an empty-net goal with 37 seconds left. Mason had 31 saves.
Dominik Hasek made 27 saves, helping Detroit improve to 5-1-1 against the Predators this season. Their last meeting of the regular season is March 29 in Nashville.
Both teams were missing key injured players, such as Nashville's Peter Forsberg and Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg, just as they did in a pair of recent games.
In the previous 10 games overall, Detroit and Nashville were 6-1-3.
Hudler has three goals in two games, including the winner in Detroit's 5-2 victory Tuesday at Nashville.
"He's been on fire lately," Zetterberg said.
The 23-year-old centre is making the most of first opportunity to play regularly in the NHL after beginning the season with one goal in 16 games. He has 14 overall in 65 games this season.
"It's not like he just turned the switch," Babcock said. "He's getting better and better.
"He has a chance because of his heart, skill and ability to be a difference-maker."
Detroit dominated the third period as it has all season. The Red Wings entered the game scoring an NHL-high 89 goals in the frame, and had outscored Nashville 7-3 in the third previously this season.
Notes: While Hasek is Detroit's No. 1 goalie, Mason is 24-11-2 and Tomas Vokoun is 22-9-4 for Nashville. ... Detroit was without Zetterberg (back), Todd Bertuzzi (back), Dan Cleary (knee), Johan Franzen (upper body), Tomas Kopecky (shoulder), and Danny Markov (upper body), and lost Valtteri Filppula (lower body) during the game. ... Zetterberg hopes to return before the playoffs begin April 11, but isn't really confident he will. "I've never had a back injury before," he said. ... Nashville was without Forsberg (upper body), Martin Erat (knee), Scott Hartnell (foot), Scott Nichol (thumb) and Steve Sullivan (back). ... Erat will miss up to four weeks after injuring his right knee colliding with Arnott on Tuesday night. ... The Red Wings swept Nashville at home for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. ... Paul Kariya's points streak for Nashville ended at six games.