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Surging Wings could tie Predators with victory

by John McGourty
DETROIT (38-23-13) at NASHVILLE (43-27-5)

Last 10 -- Red Wings 8-1-1; Predators 8-2-0

Season series -- This is the fifth meeting of the Central Division rivals. The Predators won, 3-1, on Nov. 23 in Nashville on Martin Erat's two goals and Pekka Rinne made 30 saves. Detroit won in Nashville on Dec. 12, 3-2, when Todd Bertuzzi scored at 24 seconds of overtime. Jimmy Howard made 46 saves and four Red Wings scored on Jan. 29 in a 4-2 win in Detroit. Darren Helm scored twice and Howard made 20 saves on March 5 in Detroit in a 5-2 victory. The teams meet again on April 3 in Detroit.

Big story -- Two of the three hottest teams in the NHL meet in Nashville Saturday, a Central Division matchup of the second-place Predators and third-place Red Wings, who rank fifth and eighth, respectively, in the Western Conference. Nashville leads Detroit by two points and both teams have gained a bit on the division-leading Blackhawks, who have gone 4-4-2 in their last 10. 

Team Scope:

Red Wings -- The Red Wings are playing their best hockey of the season, having won four straight. They are getting excellent goaltending from Howard. The Red Wings have two of the NHL's best defensemen in Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski and a good supporting cast bolstered by the development of Jonathan Ericsson. They skate four lines in which all 12 forwards average over 10 minutes per game. The team took time getting over the departures of Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler, Ty Conklin, Mikael Samuelsson and Tomas Kopecky but they're playing like the Red Wings now.

Predators -- Erat leads the Predators with only 48 points but Nashville has a League-high nine players with more than 30 points, including defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. Patric Hornqvist has 29 goals, only four shy of the team record set last year by Jason Arnott. Due to injuries, the top line is Marcel Goc centering Steve Sullivan and Hornqvist. David Legwand, the Predators' first drafted player, hasn't scored in 31 games but won Thursday's game against Phoenix with a shootout goal. Year after year, this team successfully executes coach Barry Trotz's strategies.

Who's hot --
Since becoming linemates on March 11, Henrik Zetterberg has four goals and six assists, Valtteri Filppula has two goals and four assists and Todd Bertuzzi has two goals and five assists. They had four goals and three assists in Thursday's 4-2 win over the Blues. Howard has saved the Red Wings' season with a 31-15-9 record, 2.29 goals-against average and .925 save percentage to become a leading Calder Memorial Trophy candidate. Defenseman Brian Rafalski has nine points in 10 games. ... Nashville's Sullivan has five points in five games. Hornqvist has six goals and three assists in nine games. Rinne has won seven of his last eight decisions.

Injury report --
Red Wings right wing Patrick Eaves returned last night against Minnesota after missing three games with a head injury. Right wing Kirk Maltby had shoulder surgery in late February and is due back in early April. ... Nashville's Arnott has missed three games with a head injury and is day-to-day. Right wing Joel Ward has missed two games with an upper-body injury and is day-to-day. Defenseman Denis Grebeshkov has missed 10 games with a lower-body injury and is nearing a return.

Stat pack --
Nashville needs to get in front early in order to win, or else get to a shootout. Nashville is the second-best team in the NHL when leading or trailing after one period. They are second-best when they score first and third-best if scored on first. They fall to ninth when leading after two periods and to 24th when trailing after two periods. Nashville leads the NHL with 12 shootout victories.

Puck Drop --
Bertuzzi was explaining how well he and his linemates cycle the puck before Red Wings coach Mike Babcock set him straight: "Let's not get confused here," Babcock told the Detroit Free Press. "We want Bert at the net and the other guys get to play with the puck. Bert gets to bang loose pucks into the net. What happens is, if Bert has the puck, that line is not as effective. It's no different than for Homer (Tomas Holmstrom) with Pav (Datsyuk) and Mule (Johan Franzen). It's set up that way, so as long as Bert is in front of the net, he's going to get to play on that line."

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