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Wings' homestand continues against Jackets

by David Kalan
BLUE JACKETS (24-44-7) at RED WINGS (45-25-5)

: FS-O (HD), FS-D (HD)

Last 10: Columbus 3-7-0; Detroit 2-6-2.

Season Series: Detroit has won three of its four meetings with Columbus this season, including the most recent game between the two, a 5-2 Wings victory on Feb. 28 at Nationwide Arena.

Big Story: After a brief resurgence, the Blue Jackets are struggling once again, and as they look to play spoiler they'll face another team that has played below expectations lately in the Red Wings. With a 21st consecutive postseason appearance on the horizon, Detroit needs to get its house in order before the Stanley Cup playoffs get underway.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets: To say it has been a long season in Columbus would be putting it mildly, and to the surprise of few after such a difficult first half of a season, the Jackets have been relegated to playing spoiler as the season hits its final 12 days. Columbus had actually begun to play well as the season hit March, winning its first four games of the month, but that brief winning streak has been followed by a rough stretch in which the Jackets have gone 2-7-0.

To make things even more difficult for the Jackets as they head to Detroit, Columbus is playing the second half of a back-to-back Monday night. The Jackets were unable to build on a 5-1 win over the Hurricanes Friday night, falling to the Oilers Sunday at Nationwide Arena, 6-3.

Red Wings: For much of this season Detroit has been in the battle for the top spot in the Western Conference, but injuries and inopportune slumps have come at just the wrong time for the Red Wings. Detroit's 5-4 win over Carolina Saturday was its first in seven games, and the Wings' 0-4-2 mark in the six games before it has now put them significantly off the pace as they trail first-place St. Louis by six points.

As a result, any hopes of a Central Division title are all but gone now and the focus now must be on maintaining home ice during the first round of the playoffs. Detroit's record is markedly better at Joe Louis Arena than it is elsewhere, and with Nashville and Chicago right in the mix for the West's fourth seed, the Wings will be in a dog fight to keep themselves on solid footing once the playoffs begin.
Who's Hot: R.J. Umberger and Derick Brassard both have four points in their last two games for Columbus. ... Jiri Hudler is coming off a three-point game for the Wings against Carolina. He has four points in his last three games.

Injury Report: The Blue Jackets could be without James Wisniewski (concussion-like symptoms) and Derek MacKenzie (concussion), who both missed Sunday's game against Edmonton. Ty Conklin could be getting another shot in net for Detroit as goalies Jimmy Howard (strained groin) and Joey MacDonald (back spasms) are likely and questionable to miss Monday's game, respectively. The Wings also recently lost Darren Helm (sprained knee ligament) for 4-6 weeks while Johan Franzen is out indefinitely with back spasms.

Stat Pack: Depending on your perspective, it might be better to finish sixth in the West and face the weakest division winner than get caught in the 4 vs. 5 matchup in the middle of the postseason field. Detroit, however, might take issue with that. The Wings would benefit hugely by grabbing the fourth seed and taking home ice into the first round as they are almost unbeatable at the Joe, going 29-5-2 at home this season. On the road it's a far different story. The Wings are just 16-20-3 away from Detroit this season.

Puck Drop: With so few games left to play, Columbus' fate is sealed for the 2011-12 season, but it doesn't mean the Blue Jackets can't make an impact. With the Wings slumping as they are, there is a very real chance for the Jackets not to push Detroit out of the playoffs altogether, but to certainly put Detroit in an uncomfortable one when the playoffs start. For Detroit, however, this could be a solid opportunity to get its house in order against a team with nothing left to play for -- and the Wings will get two shots at it. Detroit and Columbus face off again Wednesday night.
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