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Notebook: The race is tightening

by Dave Burke / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – For the past few seasons, the Western Conference has taken on the same moniker as the days of Doc Holiday and Wyatt Erp.

Things have been wild, really wild.

Other than Vancouver, who is 10 points ahead of Detroit and San Jose, who are tied at 97 each, the rest of the conference is in a log jam. Detroit is only 9 points ahead of the eighth seeded Blackhawks, whom the Red Wings host at Joe Louis Arena on Monday.

“It’s been tight like this for the last 10 games; it feels like the playoffs have already started, it’s real tight. You don’t want to give up anything,” Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “Every game here down the stretch is important and we might even end up playing Chicago. We just have to battle and play our best game.”

With seven games remaining, every point becomes that more important and with 14 possible points available, the Wings would love to finish the regular-season on a high note. What makes the last two weeks even more intriguing is that the Wings play Chicago three times and Nashville once – two teams that Detroit could find itself playing in the first round. 

“For us the biggest thing is to get into the playoffs feeling good about ourselves,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Pay attention to details and just know that our game is on the right track. We’ve been playing somewhat well of late and have been paying more attention to details which is something we need to do. I think it’s really good to play these teams that are right on the bubble. Chicago has got a really good team, so it will be a really good game tonight.”

Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook agrees with his counterpart with Kronwall’s observation.

“We just have to worry about one game at a time,” Seabrook said. “It’s so tight, you can look at all the different scenarios and all that, but it’s about playing your game. You would obviously like to get the highest seed possible and the best way to do that is going at it one game at a time.”

Wings coach Mike Babcock knows that the desperation for a team barely holding onto a playoff spot like Chicago will be high.

“We’ve got two teams tonight that both there power play and penalty kills are hot, so something has got to give,” he said. “I think we should just stay out of the box and not have to worry about it. For whatever reason you get into a rhythm and you feel like you’re going to score when you’re out there and it’s a positive thing. So specialty teams are going to be a big part of the game tonight. We need the points.”

For Babcock, the Wings need to mind their own business and not worry about whether the Blackhawks are in or out of the playoffs.
“We know were going to be playing them tonight and they’re going to be a desperate team, they have to be they’re holding on to the last playoff spot and trying to move ahead,” he said. “We’ve always had good games against them, we’ve got a lot of respect for the way they play and the players on there team. So it should be fun.” 

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McCOLLUM’s CALL-UP: With the injury to goalie Jimmy Howard (shoulder sprain), the Wings have recalled goalie Thomas McCollum from Toledo of the East Coast Hockey League.

McCollum was a first-round draft pick in 2008 and has spent this season between Toledo and the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins. This is the second time this season that he has been called-up by the Red Wings. The first was on Jan. 15 when he served as the backup in a 6-5 overtime win against Columbus. 

“I definitely feel comfortable, I spent a lot of time around the team this year and it kind of makes you feel more comfortable in the locker room,” McCollum said. “I felt comfortable on the ice this morning and had a good skate, so if I’m called upon I think I can do the job if I need to.”

McCollum, who hasn’t experienced his NHL debut yet, knows there’s a huge difference between snipers in the NHL and those in the ECHL where he is 11-9-2 with a 2.76 goals-against average.

 “There’s obviously a pretty big difference, there’s no Pavel Datsuk’s playing in the East Coast League,” he said, “but at the same time you have to adjust and hopefully find a way to battle through it and make saves.”

Speaking of Datsyuk, the Red Wings superstar welcomed McCollum by ripping a shot that knocked the helmet off the 21-year-old in Monday’s morning skate.

“It didn’t really hurt; thankfully my mask was there to save me, but my ear is still a little fuzzy,” McCollum said with a smirk. “He’s got a really good shot and can give you problems in those goalie drills.” 

Goalie coach Jim Bedard likes what he sees in McCollum’s ability.

“I saw him play a couple games in the last week and what I liked about him is he’s playing more under control and he’s being bigger and not surrendering his ice,” Bedard said. “His No. 1 asset is his foot speed and his size (6-foot-2’, 205). Sometimes it’s better to do less when you’re that big.

“We’ve got a lot of faith in his upside and he’s very well like by his teammates and as long as he’s working hard I’ve got all the time in the world for Tom McCollum.”

INJURY UPDATE: The Wings will be getting power forward Johan Franzen back tonight from a groin injury that kept him out the past four games.

Todd Bertuzzi will also lace them up tonight, despite a sore back.

Howard and Datsyuk (lower body injury) are listed as day-to-day.

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