RED WINGS (43-20-6) at PREDATORS (36-25-10)
TV: FS-D (HD), FS-TN (HD)
Detroit 6-2-2; Nashville 5-3-2
Fifth of six meetings this season between these Central Division rivals. Nashville can do no worse than a split, having taken the last three games. Most importantly for the Preds, these last two are at Bridgestone Arena. In fact, eight of the Predators' remaining 11 games are at home at a time when every possible advantage counts.
As comfortable as a 10-point lead in the Central Division can be, a four-point lead for the second seed in the Western Conference is a bit less, so the Wings still have plenty of meaningful games left before the playoffs. The Predators are part of that year-long free-for-all in the middle of the conference standings, but have seen teams like the Kings, Stars, Blackhawks and Ducks start to heat up and pull away from the Wild, Blue Jackets and Blues. Still only one point behind eighth-place Calgary, the Preds have to do everything they can to keep up.
The winged wheel keeps rolling along on a four-game winning streak, a 3-2 win over the Capitals on Wednesday and a 2-0 shutout of the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Thursday setting the scene for Saturday night, but coach Mike Babcock knows better than to be satisfied.
"We scored on the first shift and that line was good all night," he said about Thursday's performance. "Then we relaxed and got a little sloppy. We weren't near as good as we were (Wednesday) but we found a way to win on the road in back-to-back nights."
It was a costly victory, however, with Pavel Datsyuk
and Brian Rafalski
leaving the game in the third period, Datsyuk taking a hit from Rick Nash and Rafalski hurting his right knee when Antoine Vermette fell on him in the corner. Good news coming out of Wings camp is that Rafalski should be good to go Saturday, while Datsyuk will travel with the team and be a game-time decision.
"He woke up this morning and was sore, but there weren't any significant symptoms," general manager Ken Holland said in the Detroit News.
If any one player can be credited with keeping the Predators in playoff contention, it's Pekka Rinne
. He has a career-best 2.11 goals-against average, is 4-2-2 over his last eight starts with an even stingier 1.84 goals-against average and also has the distinction of owning the Red Wings, going 7-2-2 lifetime with a 2.06 GAA and three shutouts. It's no wonder coach Barry Trotz thinks he's more than Vezina Trophy material, particularly after his most recent performance, a 35-save night in a 4-3 overtime win against the Bruins Thursday, their first in the 2010-11 season.
"Peks today was spectacular," Trotz said. "He kept us in there all game, and that's why I think he's a Vezina and a Hart candidate."
Against Detroit, Rinne stopped 69 of 70 shots in his last two outings, a 3-0 win Feb. 5 at home and a 4-1 shutdown four days later at Joe Louis Arena. Add Anders Lindback
's win on Dec. 8 and the Preds have a trifecta going against the Central Division leaders.
Who's hot: Shea Weber
scored the overtime game-winner on Thursday, giving him 5 points in five games, but he's also posted at least one point in all 18 home wins for the Predators, compared with a total of three in the Preds' 15 home losses. … Datsyuk was kept off the board Thursday, but still has five points in four games. Third-string goaltender Joey MacDonald
, getting the nod with Chris Osgood's absence and Jimmy Howard
's need for a rest, made 37 saves shutting out the Blue Jackets Thursday night, his best performance in a Detroit uniform.
Osgood (sports hernia) was supposed to be back in the lineup Wednesday but he said a buildup of scar tissue would push that back to next week. He was back on the ice Friday working with goaltending coach Jim Bedard. Winger Jiri Hudler
was out with the flu Thursday, and will not make the trip to Nashville. … Predators forward Joel Ward (lower body) has missed the last two games, but could be ready for Saturday. He will be carrying a seven-game points streak into the action. Forward Steve Sullivan will be out until April after undergoing groin surgery Mar. 5.
Weber's game-winner was the 80th goal of his career, moving him past Kimmo Timonen for the franchise lead in goals by a defenseman. … With five Predators on injured reserve, they have lost 287 man-games so far, the third-highest in franchise history behind 391 in 1998-99 and 319 in 1999-2000. … The Wings have allowed eight goals in their last five games, over which they are 4-1-0.
"You talk about inspiring, the crowd was fantastic, especially in the third when we were running a little bit on fumes and getting a little bit discouraged. They were fantastic. We're going to need them Saturday night, we're going to need them right to the bitter end." -- Trotz on the home crowd at Bridgestone Arena Thursday night