Consecutive wins have helped ease the Detroit Red Wings' fears after their lengthy slump. Seeing No. 5 in uniform again should be even more reassuring.
|Nicklas Lidstrom (left) is helped off the ice by Henrik Zetterberg after spraining a knee ligament Feb. 18. He could be available to play Sunday. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom could return from injury Sunday when Detroit hosts the Nashville Predators in the first of four meetings between the teams this month.
The Red Wings (44-18-6) have dealt with a bevy of injuries in recent weeks, but perhaps no loss was more significant than Lidstrom, who sprained a knee ligament on Feb. 18 against Colorado and has missed the last six games. He still leads all NHL defensemen with 57 points.
Earlier this week, Lidstrom hinted he would return Sunday, and he said after practicing on Friday that he would speak with team doctors before a decision was reached.
"It felt a lot better today," Lidstrom told the Red Wings' official Web site. "I'm able to go backwards to forwards, open up my hips."
Detroit dropped its first four games without Lidstrom, giving it 10 losses in 11 contests, but the Red Wings have rebounded to win two straight. Another defenseman, Brian Rafalski, returned in Wednesday's 4-1 win over St. Louis, scoring a goal after he had missed eight games with a groin injury.
"There is more confidence in the locker room," said goalie Dominik Hasek, who also missed time last month with a hip injury.
"Finally to have these two guys back, it really helps our defense," Hasek added. "Not only defense, but I would say, once we get to the puck, they can skate with the puck, they can move the puck very quickly and give it to the forwards."
Against the Blues, Pavel Datsyuk scored twice and Hasek made 18 saves. Datsyuk extended his point streak to five games and took the team lead with 78 points, while Hasek started his third straight game since returning to the lineup.
Detroit still holds a comfortable lead over Dallas atop the Western Conference, but the Predators (35-26-8) are in a tight race for the final few playoff spots in the West.
Nashville has helped its cause by winning three of the past four - all on the road - since a three-game losing streak. The Predators, who will close a six-game road trip on Sunday, beat Calgary 2-1 in overtime on Friday as Dan Ellis had 29 saves and J.P. Dumont scored in the extra period.
"We deserved the two points tonight and we got it," said Dumont, who has at least one point in 28 of his last 31 games.
Ellis played well after he had been pulled in the previous game, when he allowed three goals on 11 shots in six minutes in a 6-2 loss at Vancouver. In his last five starts, Ellis has been pulled twice, but he's allowed just one goal in each of the other three games.
He's only faced the Red Wings once in his career, stopping 33 of 35 shots in a 2-1 Nashville loss on Dec. 10.
The Predators have gone 2-1-1 against their Central Division rivals this season. Nashville, though, is 5-15-4 with two ties all-time at Joe Louis Arena, including five straight losses there.
These teams are in first and second place in the Central, but they're separated by 16 points in the league's most lopsided division race.