Detroit (46-20-2) at Columbus (24-43-4)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Columbus, OH
Temp: 68° F
  • Game info: 7:00 pm EST Wed Mar 31, 2004
  • TV: IcPx
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Detroit Red Wings have the best record in the NHL. They’re about to get even stronger.

With forwards Robert Lang and Kris Draper expected to return, the Red Wings try to move closer to the Western Conference title when they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets.

A victory would give Detroit the top seed in the West and home-ice through the conference playoffs. The Red Wings are one point ahead of Tampa Bay with one game in hand in the race for the league’s best record and home-ice throughout the postseason.

“I think it’s a real tribute to be No. 1 in the league overall, so we’re looking at that as a goal for us,” Detroit’s Ray Whitney said. “Certainly getting home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs would be a bonus. We’re going to try to keep focused on what we’re doing and try to peak going into the playoffs.”

Lang and Draper’s return should make arguably the league’s best team even better.

Lang was the NHL’s leading scorer when he was acquired from Washington on Feb. 27, but a rib injury has sidelined him since March 8. Draper, having the best offensive season of his career with 24 goals and 40 points, has missed 14 games with a shoulder injury.

Though a 5-3 victory over Minnesota on Sunday stretched Detroit’s win streak to three, the best news was that goalie Manny Legace was not injured during a second-period collision with Whitney.

Legace could be the Red Wings’ starting goalie for the playoffs if Curtis Joseph is not completely healed from an ankle injury. Legace has allowed four goals during three consecutive wins.

“Luckily, my knee released,” Legace said. “Kind of an awkward position and, luckily, my knee released.”

Monday’s win came after Detroit surrendered one goal in a home-and-home sweep of Colorado.

“Our objective is to get ready for the playoffs,” Detroit forward Steve Thomas said. “We wanted to continue what we were doing against Colorado.”

Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk has goals in five straight games after going 13 games without one.

Columbus failed in a bid to win five straight for the first time in franchise history, losing 6-0 at Buffalo Monday.

The Blue Jackets, the lowest-scoring team in the West, have been shut out 11 times this season.

“I think we knew they would come out hard. They’re fighting for their lives,” Columbus defenseman Luke Richardson said. “They kept it up, and we didn’t recover. There’s no excuse.”

With three games left in the regular season, Blue Jackets left wing Rick Nash has a chance to lead the league in goals. Nash has 40 goals, one more than Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk and Calgary’s Jarome Iginla.

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