WILD (36-32-6) at RED WINGS (37-23-13)
Minnesota 5-4-1; Detroit 8-1-1
Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. The Red Wings and Wild split a pair of games in Minnesota six days apart back in January before Detroit prevailed in the most recent matchup at Joe Louis Arena earlier this month. Johan Franzen
scored twice in the 5-1 victory.
Minnesota continues to play hard despite its dwindling playoff chances. The Wild come into Friday nine points behind the Red Wings for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they've taken five of their last eight. That includes a 4-3 overtime win in Philadelphia on Thursday, a game in which Minnesota trailed 3-1 at the start of the third period.
Wild: Niklas Backstrom
rebounded after a less-than-stellar return from a two-week injury absence in which he stopped just 13 of 16 shots against San Jose. He finished with 32 saves against Philadelphia for his first win since he shut out Calgary on March 3. Minnesota rallied to force overtime on goals by Martin Havlat and Andrew Brunette before Kyle Brodziak
netted the winner 2:33 into the extra period.
"It was a great team effort tonight and a good battle," Havlat said. "We didn't have a great start, but we battled until the last second and it was great to get the win tonight."
While Detroit coach Mike Babcock probably isn't allowing his players to breathe easy just yet, it appears the Red Wings are finally putting some distance between themselves and the rest of the playoff hopefuls. They have a four-point lead on Calgary and a game in hand after the Flames lost to the Islanders on Thursday. A 4-2 win over St. Louis on Wednesday raised Detroit's record to 6-0-1 in its last seven.
"We've been getting better since we've gotten our people back," coach Mike Babcock said, referring to injuries that decimated the Wings well into the second half of the season.
Who's hot: Guillaume Latendresse
of the Wild has two goals and an assist during a three-game points streak.
The Red Wings' top line is sizzling. Henrik Zetterberg
has four goals and four assists during a four-game points streak. Valtteri Filppula
has four goals and four assists during a three-game points streak. Todd Bertuzzi
has two goals and three assists during a three-game points streak. In goal, Jimmy Howard
has started 20 straight games, allowing two goals or less in six of the last seven.
Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu
missed Thursday's game due to an arm injury. Defensemen Justin Falk
(concussion), Shane Hnidy (leg) and Clayton Stoner
(sports hernia) are all sidelined, as is forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard
(concussion). … Detroit is without forwards Patrick Eaves
(back/neck) and Kirk Maltby
Koivu, who missed his first game of the season, leads the Wild in assists (46), points (66) and shots on goal (223). … Howard is three games from tying the Wings' rookie record for consecutive starts by a goalie -- Roy Edwards got the nod in 23 straight during the 1967-68 season.
Detroit got a major boost without even playing on Thursday when Calgary dropped a game it desperately needed to win. If the Red Wings can beat the Wild, they'll take a six-point lead into play Saturday and put a ton of pressure on the Flames, who face the Bruins in an afternoon game in Boston.