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Notebook: Wings look to the East

by Dave Burke / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – The Red Wings will receive a good test when Eastern Conference powers Washington and Pittsburgh visit Joe Louis Arena in the next six days.

The games could be used as a good measuring stick going into the Stanley Cup playoffs as the Capitals are right in the thick of the hunt for the Eastern crown only one point behind Philadelphia. The last time the Wings and Caps met was early last year when the Tomas Holmstroms’ third-period power play goal was the difference in a 3-2 win.

This Washington team seems to have a more defensive strategy and captain Nicklas Lidstrom agrees.

“We haven’t seen them yet, but they’re playing real well right now as a team,” he said. “They have the offensive guys that can score the goals for them and they’re playing real well defensively and that’s one of the reasons they’re winning.

“It’s great for the fans, great for the crowd to see some of the high profile players in the Eastern Conference that you don’t get to see a whole lot. (Alex) Ovechkin might be the best player in the world, along with Pav on our side. So it’s a great challenge for our team to face them when you see such a dynamic player like Ovechkin. He’s got the speed, the power, he’s got that shot.”

For the players, playing Eastern teams give them a welcomed change of pace.

“Yeah it’s always good to play against top teams, especially since we don’t get to see a lot of the Eastern Conference,” forward Danny Cleary said. “We played a good home-and-home against Boston, that was a good series, but Washington will certainly be a good test.”

Wings coach Mike Babcock knows that the Caps are a hot team coming in, and that the Wings will need to have a solid game.

“They’re playing real well,” he said. “They’ve won eight in a row.  I watched them play against Carolina a little bit and watched them against Chicago. They’re good without the puck, they’re a big team and the backend really skates. They’re physical and have good goaltending. Then they have the guys that can score so that makes for a good team. They’ve been way more patient than they have in the past when I watch them now.”

Injuries have caught up with the Penguins, who have been without forward Evgeni Malkin, who suffered a MCL and ACL last month, and will be out the rest of the season.

Center Sidney Crosby is the other injured star and has been out since early January with concussion-like symptoms.

Even with these crucial injuries, the Penguins have battled valiantly and still hold onto the fourth overall spot in the East’s playoff race.

Pittsburgh and Detroit have had a lot of history the last few seasons, with back-to-back showdowns in Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and ‘09.

“It’s good to see what other teams are like in the East,” forward Darren Helm said. “Good to see how they play and what style they use. You kind of see where everyone stacks up. Every team is so good now; there are only six, seven or eight points that separate teams from first to 11h or 12th in our division. It’s pretty similar to their division, as well.”

While the Caps and Pens are in a different conference, the overall objective for the Red Wings stays the same.

“Yeah it’s no different than the top teams in our conference,” center Mike Modano said. “Just a different flavor and you get to see some different players. They’re exciting and good, but it’s always about improving and getting better. It doesn’t matter whether we play Edmonton, St. Louis or Washington, it’s about getting points.”

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