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Predators look to close gap on rival Red Wings

by Mike G. Morreale
RED WINGS (44-23-10) at PREDATORS (42-26-10)
Last 10:
Detroit 5-3-2; Nashville 8-2-0
Season series: This is the sixth and final meeting between these Central Division rivals. The Predators have won four straight against Detroit to grab a 4-1 lead in the season series, including a 3-1 victory in the most recent meeting on March 19 in Nashville. The fact Nashville has killed 20 of Detroit's last 22 power plays in the series has certainly played a big part in their recent success against the Wings.
Big story:
The good news for the Red Wings is that starting goalie Jimmy Howard will return to the lineup after missing the last two games with a sprained left shoulder. The bad news is Detroit is 1-3-2 over its last six games, including its worst loss in 18 years in a 10-3 setback to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday. In the seven-goal defeat, goalies Joey MacDonald (allowed 7 goals on 39 shots) and Thomas McCollum (3 goals on 8 shots), who was making his first NHL appearance, were both pulled. MacDonald was reinserted back into the game for the third period. In addition to Howard, the Wings will also determine if center Pavel Datsyuk (lower body) can return to the lineup following Saturday's morning skate.
Team Scope:
Red Wings: It isn't often the Red Wings are booed by the hometown faithful at Joe Louis Arena but that's precisely what happened on Wednesday. The rout by the Blues marked the most goals given up by Detroit since Oct. 9, 1993, when the Los Angeles Kings also posted a 10-3 victory. It certainly wasn't the way the Wings would have liked to end a five-game homestand, during which they finished 1-2-2. Needless to say, coach Mike Babcock wasn't in a very good mood at Thursday's practice.
"Work. Compete and work. That's all it was,” Babcock said. "We didn't do our jobs (Wednesday) night. It's simple. We flushed (Wednesday's) game, and we'll move on with our life."
The Predators, 9-2-0 in their last 11 games and 11-3-2 over their last 16, are sixth in the Western Conference with 94 points -- one ahead of seventh-seeded Anaheim and just four behind Central Division leader Detroit. The Preds, on the verge of their sixth playoff berth in seven years, scored a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. The team has won 18 straight games when it has scored at least three goals and is 39-4-1 overall when scoring three times this season.
Who's hot: Nashville left wing Sergei Kostitsyn owns an eight-game point-scoring streak (3 goals, 10 points) and has produced 3 goals and 6 points in the five games against Detroit this season.
Injury report: Predators' left wing Steve Sullivan is out recovering from groin surgery performed on Mar. 5. Right wing Jordin Tootoo, who suffered an upper-body injury in the second period of Thursday's game, is questionable. … Detroit goalie Chris Osgood (sports hernia), who practiced with the team on Friday, isn't eligible to return until April 8 since he was placed on long-term injured reserve on Wednesday. Datsyuk, who practiced with the team on Friday, will be re-evaluated by the team's medical staff on Saturday morning.
Stat pack: Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has started 38 of the team's last 42 games and has allowed two or fewer goals 26 times this season.
Puck drop: "Every line has contributed through this stretch," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "I have to give a lot of credit to everyone right through the lineup. Everyone is doing the right thing. That is huge."

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