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Wings look to leap Preds on Saturday

by Michelle Crechiolo / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – A lot can change in a week.

When the Red Wings faced Nashville last Saturday, Detroit was clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, while Nashville was holding onto seventh.

Now the Wings have climbed to sixth, a point shy of the Predators, who are in fifth. The Central Division rivals will face off at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday, and the Wings can finally surpass them for the first time this season with a win.

“It feels like we’ve been trying to catch them for a while now,” forward Johan Franzen said. “Every time we win they win too, so they’ve been playing really well.”

The Central Division rivals have been neck-and-neck, but the Wings just can’t seem to pull ahead. If Detroit had won in regulation instead of a shootout last Saturday, they would now be tied with Nashville in the standings. However, Nashville managed to steal a point to keep the Wings at bay.

“We all knew coming into that game that it was going to be a big game, obviously,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said, who scored the game-winning goal in the 11-round shootout. “Now both teams have been on a bit of a roll here. So we’re just looking to get us as high up in the standings as possible, so this is a big game for us.”

Both teams have been rolling, playing some of their best hockey of the season. The Wings have earned the most points in the NHL since the Olympic break, going 13-2-1 for 27 points. The Predators aren’t far behind, with a 12-5-1 record for 25 points.

“Both us and them are playing really good right now,” Wings forward Drew Miller said. “It’s going to be a great game, I mean, we’re both fighting for that fifth spot, and we’re also fighting to stay in the playoff race. We’re hungry, they’re hungry.”

The regular-season concludes on April 11, and the Wings want to gain as much momentum as they can from Saturday’s match, no matter where they finish in the standings.

“Like the guys have been saying, we need to build this momentum and keep it going,” said rookie goalie Jimmy Howard, who is 3-0 against Nashville this season.

OSGOOD TO PLAY SUNDAY: It’s a double whammy – the Wings have two games in less than 24 hours (they play Nashville on 2 p.m. EDT Saturday and face Philadelphia at 12:30 p.m. EDT Sunday), and the playoffs are looming.

That means Chris Osgood will get his first start since Jan. 27 when the Wings travel to Philadelphia.

He has reverted to more of a mentor role with Howard, who is having a stellar season.

But the playoffs are where Osgood has shined in the past, making 13 career postseason appearances and winning three Stanley Cups.

“I’ve got to get some games in, get ready in case I have to go in in the playoffs,” he said. “Plus, it’ll be a big game. We’re pretty close in the standings, so it’ll be good to get back in and play.”

Babcock said that Osgood will play in another of the three games remaining after Sunday to help prepare him for the postseason, and the veteran goaltender is looking forward to being between the pipes again.

“I feel real good right now, in practice I feel like I’m in real good shape,” Osgood said. “Just get some games in, get some rust off and get ready … I want to make sure I’m 100 percent ready to go if I’m needed to play.”

INJURY REPORT: Dan Cleary will sit out his fourth straight game Saturday to rest a nagging groin injury. He may be ready to play Sunday.

Defenseman Brad Stuart didn’t skate at Friday’s practice due to what he called “minor maintenance,” but will be in the lineup for Saturday’s game.

Franzen blocked a shot off his foot during the waning moments of Thursday’s win over Columbus, but Babcock said, “He’s alright. He was back out there at the end.”

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