RED WINGS (35-25-11) at PANTHERS (40-22-9)
TV: 7 p.m. ET; NHLN, FS-D+, FS-F
SUNRISE, Fla. - Veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall is expected to be back in the lineup Saturday when the Detroit Red Wings face the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.
Kronwall has missed three games because of a sprained knee, but Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told MLive.com on Saturday he expected Kronwall to play against Florida.
The Red Wings had an optional morning skate with only scratches and rookies taking the ice, and Kronwall wasn't among the players participating. Defenseman Alexey Marchenko was among those who skated, and he's the player Kronwall is expected to replace in the lineup.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard will start, coach Jeff Blashill said after practice Friday. Petr Mrazek, who has been dealing with the flu, was among those who skated for the Red Wings on Saturday morning. Jared Coreau, recalled from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League on Thursday, is expected to back up Howard.
Howard made 27 saves Thursday in a 3-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets that ended a two-game losing streak for the Red Wings.
Detroit began the day holding the second wild-card position into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference with 81 points, one ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers. Philadelphia faced the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier Saturday.
The Panthers, who will be playing their only home game sandwiched between two three-game road trips, have a three-point lead on the Boston Bruins atop the Atlantic Division and a four-point advantage on the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Panthers are expected to go with the same lineup as Thursday when they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1.
Defenseman Jakub Kindl will face his former team for the first time since Florida acquired him from Detroit on Feb. 27 for a sixth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.
"Maybe we should talk about after the game what it's like because I've never had a chance to play (against a former team)," said Kindl, a first-round pick of the Red Wings in the 2005 draft who played 273 games for Detroit over seven seasons. "I've only been in one organization all my career. To be honest, I don't know what to expect. From the drop of the puck, it's going to be all business, but I'm sure after the game we're all going to talk and see how it went."
The Panthers again will be without center Derek MacKenzie and defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who both sustained a lower-body injury while blocking shots. Coach Gerard Gallant said they each would miss at least another week and wouldn't accompany the team on its road trip that begins Monday at the New York Rangers.
The Panthers have won two of three games against the Red Wings, including a 6-3 victory at BB&T Center on Feb. 4. The teams split two games in Detroit - Florida won 2-1 on Nov. 29 when Brian Campbell scored in overtime; Detroit won 3-0 on Feb. 8.
Detroit rookie Dylan Larkin has three goals against Florida; Jussin Jokinen has four assists for Florida.
Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey, the inspiration behind the Panthers' "Spacey in Space" sweatshirts given to their player of the game after a victory, is expected to be in attendance Saturday.
"It's pretty cool to see how that's taken off," Panthers center Nick Bjugstad said. "A lot of fans are wearing them in the stands. I think Kevin Spacey will be pretty proud to see his face on quite a few sweaters tonight. I haven't met him, so it'll be cool to see him. Maybe he'll come by the locker room and say hi to the boys. It's pretty fun. I think the fans will enjoy it, too."
Here are the projected lines:
Justin Abdelkader - Henrik Zetterberg - Dylan Larkin
Tomas Tatar - Pavel Datsyuk - Anthony Mantha
Gustav Nyquist - Riley Sheahan - Andreas Athanasiou
Darren Helm - Luke Glendening - Brad Richards
Danny DeKeyser - Kyle Quincey
Brendan Smith - Mike Green
Jonathan Ericsson - Niklas Kronwall
Injured: Drew Miller (knee), Johan Franzen (concussion), Petr Mrazek (illness)
Scratched: Teemu Pulkkinen , Tomas Jurco
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Reilly Smith
Jiri Hudler - Nick Bjugstad - Teddy Purcell
Garrett Wilson - Greg McKegg - Logan Shaw
Dmitry Kulikov -- Aaron Ekblad
Brian Campbell - Alex Petrovic
Jakub Kindl - Steven Kampfer
Injured: Derek MacKenzie (lower body), Erik Gudbranson (lower body), Willie Mitchell (upper body), Dave Bolland (lower body)
Scratches: Quinton Howden, Shawn Thornton
Status report: Mitchell, who hasn't played since Jan. 18, took part in the morning skate and Gallant said he was "getting close," although he wasn't sure whether Mitchell would accompany the team on its road trip. … Luongo is expected to make his sixth start in seven games.
Who's hot: Helm has three goals in his past three games. … Bjugstad has two goals and two assists during a four-game point streak. … Jokinen, who had two goals against Toronto on Thursday, has points in 11 of his past 12 games