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Red Wings continue pursuit for playoffs vs. Canucks

by Brian Hunter
RED WINGS (34-23-13) at CANUCKS (44-24-3)

Last 10: Detroit 7-2-1; Vancouver 7-2-1

Season series: Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. Detroit won the first two matchups before Vancouver claimed a 6-3 win at Joe Louis Arena back on March 3. Jimmy Howard and Roberto Luongo have been the goaltenders of record each time, although Howard relieved Chris Osgood in the Oct. 27 contest and picked up his first NHL win since the 2005-06 season.

Big story: A pessimist would look at the Red Wings' 3-2 shootout loss in Edmonton on Friday as a lost point against the League's worst team that could end up coming back to haunt Detroit in its bid to make the playoffs. An optimist might counter that the Wings did well to turn what looked like a sure regulation loss into a key point in the standings on a Brian Rafalski goal with 0.2 seconds remaining. It prevented Calgary from overtaking Detroit for eighth. The Red Wings also have a game in hand, which they will play on Saturday.

Team Scope:

Red Wings:
Anyone who viewed Friday's game as an easy two points had to be stunned when Edmonton jumped out to a two-goal lead in the first five minutes. Detroit battled back on a Patrick Eaves goal in the second period and took 16 of the first 19 shots in the third, but the Oilers still led 2-1 until Henrik Zetterberg controlled the puck out of a scrum in the corner and got it to Pavel Datsyuk, who fed a cutting Rafalski for the tying score. The Red Wings ensured themselves of a point but were outscored 2-1 in the shootout.

"It wasn't because we took them lightly," Howard said. "We knew they were going to come out hard, but we didn't get our legs under us until about 15 minutes into the first period and that was the game."

Not only surviving but thriving on their 14-game road trip, to the tune of an 8-5-1 record, Vancouver returned home earlier this month in solid position to win the Northwest Division. The Canucks currently lead the Avalanche by five points. This is the finale of a five-game homestand. Following the lone blemish, a 5-2 loss to the Islanders on Tuesday, the Canucks rebounded to edge the Sharks 3-2 on Thursday.

"We wanted to bounce back. We were disappointed with ourselves," said Luongo, who was pulled against New York. "They are on top of the conference and a very good team and we came out, had a solid first period and really set the tempo."

Who's hot: Datsyuk and Rafalski can each claim two goals and an assist in their respective three-game points streaks. Zetterberg has a goal and four assists in his last four games. Tomas Holmstrom has three goals and two assists in his last five games. Howard is 3-0-1 in his last four starts, giving up two goals or less each time.

Daniel Sedin had three goals and 14 assists for the Canucks in an 11-game points streak snapped by the Sharks. Henrik Sedin had three goals and eight assists in a six-game points streak that also ended Thursday. Ryan Kesler has two goals and three assists in his last five games. Alexander Edler has a goal and three assists in his last four games.

Injury report:
Eaves would later leave Friday's game after getting "bumped" according to Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who wasn't sure if the forward would be available Saturday. Forward Kirk Maltby is out for the season following shoulder surgery.

Vancouver forward Mikael Samuelsson, an ex-Wing enjoying a career season, will miss the next several weeks with an upper-body injury. Forward Steve Bernier is expected to miss another month following surgery for a sports hernia and defenseman Willie Mitchell is on injured reserve with a concussion.

Stat pack:
Howard has started 17 straight games for the Wings, going 9-4-4 over that span. … Henrik Sedin is six points shy of his first career 100-point season and has already eclipsed his previous career high by 12 points.

Puck drop: Kesler signed a six-year contract extension Friday that will keep him in Vancouver through the 2015-16 season. The sixth-year forward has already established career highs in assists (45), points (66), power-play goals (12) and game-winners (4) with 11 games remaining in the regular season.

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