Half of Nashville’s four playoff appearances resulted in first-round losses to the Detroit Red Wings, but the Predators may get a chance to guarantee that doesn’t happen this spring.
In three remaining meetings with the Red Wings, Nashville could help keep Detroit out of the postseason altogether, and the Predators will try to continue their own push Friday night at Joe Louis Arena.
The Red Wings (29-22-12) have been a fixture in the playoffs for two decades, making it 18 straight times dating back to 1990. The last eight times have been as Central Division champions and they’ve often been near the top of the Western Conference, as they were when they beat Nashville in six games in 2004 and 2008.
But injuries and inconsistency have Detroit currently scrambling. While the Red Wings are in eighth place in the West, five clubs are within four points of them.
According to coach Mike Babcock, Detroit “didn’t look like a team that was dying to be in the playoffs” during Wednesday’s 6-3 home loss to Vancouver.
“It was a discouraging effort for our team,” said Babcock, who guided Team Canada to a gold medal at the Olympics Sunday. “This didn’t look very good and doesn’t give you much sign of hope.
“We have the makings of a real good team,” he added. “Now, we have to play like a real good team each and every night to get ourselves into the tournament.”
With most of its roster now healthy after several injuries to key players earlier this season, the Red Wings can no longer blame their struggles on a lack of manpower.
Instead, Babcock turned to Detroit’s stars, like centers Pavel Datsyuk(notes) and Henrik Zetterberg(notes). Datsyuk is averaging less than a point per game for the first time since the NHL lockout, while Zetterberg has a plus-minus of zero since returning from a shoulder injury in early January.
“It’s about our high-end guys,” Babcock said. “It’s time for them to step up.”
Nashville isn’t overflowing with star power, but the Predators are seventh in the West, and they increased their cushion over Detroit by beating Los Angeles 4-2 on Thursday.
The Predators (35-23-5) have scored four goals in each of three straight wins that straddled the Olympic break, and they’re now five points ahead of the Red Wings.
“It’s really tight for the playoff race, for us it’s a goal to get points out of as many games as we can,” said forward Marcel Goc(notes), who scored the game-winner against the Kings. “If you start with a winning streak early, it only helps you.”
Nashville will have three chances to affect the Red Wings in the playoff race, including two meetings in the final eight games of the season. The Predators had won four straight against Detroit before losing the last two meetings, including a 4-2 road defeat on Jan. 29.
Dan Ellis(notes), who stopped 25 shots in that game, could get another chance for Nashville after Pekka Rinne(notes) played Thursday. Ellis is 2-3-1 with a 2.81 goals-against average in seven career games versus the Red Wings.
The Predators may get a boost from the debut of center Dustin Boyd(notes), who was acquired in a trade with Calgary before Wednesday’s deadline. Boyd had eight goals—including two game-winners—and 11 assists in 60 games with the Flames this season.