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Wings amped for showdown with West-best Canucks

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- In many ways, the Western Conference's top two teams -- the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings -- are mirror images.
In fact, the main things separating the West-leading Canucks (103 points) from the second-seeded Red Wings (92) are 11 standings points and their uniforms. That's what makes their last meeting of the regular season on Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena (7:30 p.m., Versus, TSN) so interesting -- despite Detroit possibly scratching four forwards and the Canucks not having center Manny Malhotra or former Red Wing Mikael Samuelsson.
"They've got a good shot to go all the way," Detroit forward Tomas Holmstrom said, following Detroit's optional morning skate. "So, if we want to go all the way we've got to go through them, probably. (Still), we've had lots of years where we've been in the front so no one could catch us, but (the playoffs) is a different season. It starts from zero."
That's why the Red Wings -- who are 2-1 against Vancouver this season -- are resting up Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Todd Bertuzzi and possibly Jiri Hudler, who will be a game-time decision. Detroit coach Mike Babcock said all four would play if it were the playoffs, but since it's not it's best to get them healthy.

"They've got a good shot to go all the way. So, if we want to go all the way we've got to go through them, probably. (Still), we've had lots of years where we've been in the front so no one could catch us, but (the playoffs) is a different season. It starts from zero."
-- Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom on the Vancouver Canucks

Canucks star forward Daniel Sedin understands the logic, but still wants Vancouver to keep charging hard for the West's No. 1 seed regardless of their sizeable lead over the Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes.
"If you're a little bit injured, it's a good call to rest your players," said Sedin, who arrived in Detroit on Tuesday night after staying home for the birth of his daughter. "That's what you should do. But if you're healthy, you should play. We've had a good thing going for the whole year and we shouldn't stop now."
Not when the next opponent is Detroit, which has become one of the League's most respected teams for its consistent success year after year. The Red Wings and Canucks also have the potential to play exciting, high-scoring games. In two of the three games they've played so far, the two teams have combined for nine and 10 goals.
"Anytime you play a good team -- especially a team like Detroit, that's been a powerhouse for so long -- it's a fun game to play," said Sedin, whose 38 goals and 93 points lead the Canucks. "They play a fun way, too. They like to attack and that tends to maybe open up things a little bit."
Who's the new guy?: The Red Wings went through their optional morning skate with three goalies, which wasn't anything out of the ordinary considering they've had Jimmy Howard, Chris Osgood and Joey MacDonald all participating recently.

What stuck out was the third goalie wasn't MacDonald. Instead, it was 20-year old Troy Passingham, who just finished his season with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League.

Passingham signed a one day amateur tryout offer with the Red Wings -- which doesn't count against the League's hard salary cap -- after being granted the opportunity on Tuesday.

He was visiting his girlfriend just across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ont., when he was notified. As it turned out, MacDonald was recalled from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League after the Red Wings placed Osgood on the long-term injured reserve list Wednesday afternoon.

That means the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Passingham won't be Howard's backup against the Canucks. Instead, he'll just relish his chance to participate in the optional skate, after playing 24 games with the Sting -- recording a 9-10-3 record with a 4.76 goals-against average and .879 save percentage.

"I was just sitting there at my girlfriend's house in Windsor when I got the call," said Passingham, who played the previous two seasons with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires. "Obviously there was a lot of excitement and a really long day yesterday, but I'm here now, so it's good."

The move was a creative way for Detroit to call up forward Jan Mursak from Grand Rapids -- a necessary move considering the Red Wings could be without four injured forwards if Hudler can't go. If Osgood hadn't been placed on long-term IR, MacDonald's salary would've counted against the cap and the Red Wings couldn't have squeezed in Mursak.

Now Mursak and MacDonald will stay until Osgood (groin) can return. The first time Osgood will be eligible to return is April 8 against the Chicago Blackhawks

Hudler wants to dress: After going through Detroit's skate on Wednesday, Hudler (sore shoulder) said he wanted to play -- but would get the final word from the training staff. Babcock said Hudler would be a game-time decision, which means he'll likely go through warm-ups before a decision is made.

"It's sore and stiff, but what are you going to do?" Hudler said. "I don't want to sit around and watch TV. It's a big game for both teams and it's getting tighter and tighter (in the Western Conference). It's no fun for me to do treatments, but you've got to do what you've got to do. We've got to (loosen it up), but hopefully I'll be in."

Bieksa to play: Vancouver will get one of its injured defensemen back in Kevin Bieksa, who's missed 15 games with a broken foot.

Bieksa skated in Tuesday's practice and again on Wednesday, reporting that everything feels fine. Coach Alain Vigneault said he will be re-paired with Dan Hamhuis and will likely see around 20 minutes of ice time.

"Anytime you're out for an extended period and you come back, you get a little bit of the butterflies -- but that's a good thing," Bieksa said. "Right now I'm feeling good, so there's no reason to hold back."

Vancouver still has three injured defensemen out. Vigneault was asked if they could be back by the time the playoffs start, and he said it's a possibility.

"That would be nice," Vigneault said. "If it's there, great. If it's not, then we'll just have to play with healthy bodies."
Canucks happy with deals: When Vancouver acquired both Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre before the trade deadline, they weren't the kind of moves that made big headlines.

They were "depth" moves. As it turned out, with Malhotra being lost to a season-ending eye injury, those trades now loom large for the Canucks. Vancouver will use a "committee" approach to replace Malhotra, and two of the committee members will be Higgins and Lapierre.

"The addition of both Lapierre and Chris Higgins for us was depth that we felt we needed up front," Vigneault said. "I think both of those guys are going to come out and help us as we move along here."

Who's in, who's out: Vigneault said defenseman Aaron Rome will play against the Red Wings while Christopher Tanev will be scratched. Without Samuelsson, the Canucks' second line will be comprised of Higgins, Mason Raymond and center Ryan Kesler.

The Red Wings will either go with 12 forwards and six defensemen or 11 forwards and seven D-men depending on Hudler's availability. Justin Abdelkader will also get some time on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Danny Cleary.

Datsyuk, meanwhile, said he hopes to start skating again in the next day or two, after missing the past two games with a lower-body injury.
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