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Red Wings-Penguins could be playoff preview

by John Kreiser

RED WINGS (38-27-14) at PENGUINS (50-24-5)


Last 10: Detroit 6-3-1; Pittsburgh 5-5-0

Season series: The Detroit Red Wings are making their only visit of the season to Consol Energy Center. The teams split two games in Detroit, with the Pittsburgh Penguins winning 4-1 in December and the Red Wings earning a 5-4 overtime victory on March 20.

Big story: The Red Wings can lock up their 23rd consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs by getting a point against the Penguins, who get defenseman Kris Letang back as they tune up for the postseason after clinching the Metropolitan Division title and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. This could be a playoff preview: The Penguins will open the playoffs against the first wild-card in the East; the Red Wings enter Wednesday in that spot, one point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Team Scope:

Red Wings: Detroit coach Mike Babcock set a franchise record for victories when the Red Wings beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-2 on Tuesday. But he's much more interested in his team's accomplishments than his own.

"The win tonight is way more important than that," Babcock said when asked about the significance of his 414th career victory, one more than Jack Adams. "But what I would say to you is these are things you think about the summer. And I'm thrilled."


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For now, however, his sights are squarely on making sure the Red Wings qualify for the postseason.

"I know we've got a game in Pittsburgh [Wednesday]. We're going to enjoy this tonight." Babcock said. "The reality is, it's an important game [Wednesday]."

Penguins: Pittsburgh has three regular-season games remaining, all at home. But coach Dan Bylsma's eyes are on next week, when the Penguins start the playoffs. With a team that has missed more than 500 man-games due to injury, getting healthy before the playoffs start is the top priority now. The return of Letang, who hasn't played since suffering a stroke in late January, certainly helps.

In addition, captain and NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby, who sat out Sunday against the Colorado Avalanche with an upper-body injury, will return to play against Detroit. He said he didn't mind getting the night off in Denver, even though it meant not playing all 82 regular-season games.

"I'd love to, but I think I've played more than 82 at this point, if you're counting every one," he said with a smile, referring to the 2014 Sochi Olympics. "So I'm OK with that. I think what's most important is that you feel good at the right time and that's playoffs, so just have to be smart."

Forward Chris Kunitz and defenseman Olli Maatta, who also missed the past game, will be in the lineup as well.

Who's hot: Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard has won his past four starts, allowing two goals in each game. … Crosby has six points, all assists, in his past five games. Center Brandon Sutter had two goals against Colorado.

Injury report: Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (finger surgery), and forwards Stephen Weiss (sports hernia surgery) and Henrik Zetterberg (back surgery), are on injured reserve. Forward Daniel Cleary (sprained knee) is out indefinitely. … Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (foot) saw a doctor Monday and has progressed to skating lightly, according to Bylsma. Forward Joe Vitale, who has missed 10 games with what the team called a mid-body injury, is also skating. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun, sidelined all season following preseason surgery to dissolve a blood clot, will begin a minor-league rehab assignment Wednesday. Forwards Marcel Goc (foot) and Chris Conner (foot) remain out.

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