DETROIT – The magic number is five but the Red Wings don’t want to lose sight of their mission.
“We’ve got a game tomorrow is all I know and we have to find a way to win a game,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “We’ve done a lot of good things this season. We’ve had a lot of fun doing it. The kids have really grown. If you want to focus on the injuries you can do that, but we’ve chosen not to do that. We feel we’ve gotten better as a team. The reality is that’s going to be measured is what happens over these last four games.”
The Red Wings’ last four games – against Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Carolina and St. Louis – are all potential landmines in a six-day span that leaves little room for error. With eight points available and a four-point lead over New Jersey, the Red Wings can’t afford to stumble now.
With four games left themselves, the Devils, who have picked up points in eight of their past nine games, have turned the corner and are heading in the opposite direct from the Toronto Maple Leafs, who self-destructed in the past month.
New Jersey has 84 points, which is four behind Detroit and three behind Columbus for the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
“I’m not surprised,” said Gustav Nyquist when asked about the resurgent Devils. “I think they’re a great team and we’ve had some great battles against them all year. They’re a tough team to play. They play real structured and they have some real good players. So it’s not surprising to see at all, and I’m sure they’re going to keep winning down the stretch.”
Any combination of five points gained by the Red Wings or five points squandered by the New Jersey Devils will lift Detroit to its 23rd straight playoff appearance. Detroit and New Jersey each have four games remaining before Sunday’s last day of the regular season, but it appears that the Devils have a less strenuous path with three home games remaining, beginning tonight against Calgary.
Still, the Red Wings were feeling pretty confident following Monday’s practice at Joe Louis Arena that they will be getting ready for a first-round playoff series next week.
“I think we’re in a good spot right now,” forward Drew Miller said. “We have to win some games. Our mindset is to continue playing well and make the playoffs. That’s our goal and we want to continue playing well when we get in the playoffs.”
But first things first, it’s important that the Red Wings take care of business at First Niagara Center on Tuesday against a Sabres team that played Detroit tight in three games this season, including last Friday at Joe Louis Arena.
“I don’t look at it like that,” Babcock said. “We’re playing an NHL team tomorrow, they’re probably getting three guys back, they’re going to want to win. They’re playing in front of their home crowd. We just need to be detail orientated. We thought we had tons of chances that last time we played and we didn’t score so the game in the end was close. It’ll probably be a tighter checking game than last time. We just have to find a way to get one more than they do.”
The Sabres will have Marcus Foligno back in the lineup, while Chris Stewart, Torrey Mitchell and Christian Ehrhoff are expected to be game-time decisions.
For the Red Wings, Daniel Alfredsson and Pavel Datsyuk managed to skate through back-to-back games over the weekend unscathed. Both veterans are back from injuries but expect to play in the upcoming back-to-back contests at Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
“I feel fine, so it’s basically no issues and I’m happy with the way I felt yesterday after back-to-back games,” said Alfredsson, who missed one game last week with a sore lower back. “And we’ve got it coming up against Tuesday and Wednesday, so it’s nice to have two days in between it to energize again.”
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