Vancouver (47-17-9) at Detroit (43-21-9)

By MATT BEARDMORE, STATS Writer Tuesday, Mar 22, 2011 Puck Drop: 7:30 pm EDT Wed Mar 23, 2011

With a club-record third straight Northwest Division title already clinched, the Vancouver Canucks are still trying to secure their first Presidents’ Trophy and home ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

They’ll have to make that push without Manny Malhotra(notes).

Two days after learning that the veteran center will be out the rest of the season, the Canucks open a four-game trip Wednesday against the Central Division-leading Detroit Red Wings, who are dealing with their own injury issues.

A 4-2 victory over Colorado last Wednesday wrapped up another division title, but the victory came at a steep price as Malhotra was hit in the left eye by a deflected puck. He underwent surgery that night, and the team announced Monday that Malhotra will not return this season.

In his 12th NHL season and first with the Canucks, Malhotra finished with 11 goals and 30 points. His faceoff winning percentage of 61.7 will be missed on the Canucks’ penalty-kill unit, which is among the league’s best at 86.0 percent.

“It’s tough, but at the same time it’s going to bring this team closer together,” Detroit-area native Ryan Kesler(notes) told the Canucks’ official website.

Kesler has a team-high six points—all assists—against the Red Wings this season. He’s second on the club with 36 goals and third with 64 points for Vancouver (47-17-9), which leads the league with 103 points.

The Canucks will need Kesler, as they will also be without leading scorer Daniel Sedin(notes), who will be with his wife as she’s expecting the couple’s third child.

The club, though, should have plenty of confidence heading into the final regular-season meeting at Joe Louis Arena. Vancouver, which lost 5-4 in overtime at Detroit on Dec. 22, is in position to win six straight road games for the first time since Dec. 26, 2006-Jan. 18, 2007.

The Red Wings (43-21-9), three points ahead of third-place San Jose in the Western Conference, are looking to avoid their third straight defeat after beginning a five-game homestand Monday with a 5-4 shootout loss to Pittsburgh.

“It was a good point for us,” coach Mike Babcock said after his team rallied from a four-goal second-period deficit.

Detroit owns a comfortable lead over Nashville and Chicago in the division race, but is trying to get healthy as it almost surely will make a 20th consecutive postseason appearance.

Forwards Pavel Datsyuk(notes), who suffered a broken right wrist in the Dec. 22 matchup, and Johan Franzen(notes) each might miss a third straight contest with lower-body injuries.

Jiri Hudler(notes), who scored the lone shootout goal in a 2-1 win at Vancouver on Jan. 8 that snapped the Canucks’ season-high eight-game winning streak, could be sidelined a fourth consecutive game with an upper-body injury. The same injury may also sideline former Canuck Todd Bertuzzi(notes).

Chris Osgood(notes), though, practiced Tuesday and might make his return to net after being sidelined since early January following sports hernia surgery. It would be his first start versus Vancouver since a 6-5 home win on Dec. 4, 2008.

Jimmy Howard(notes), though, is 2-1-0 with a 3.52 goals-against average against the Canucks this season, and is among the league leaders in wins in 2010-11.

Roberto Luongo(notes) stopped 32 shots on Jan. 8 after yielding nine goals in the teams’ first two matchups this season.

Detroit is 17-4-3 with a tie at home in this matchup since the start of 1997-98.

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Wednesday, Mar 23