Devils-Red Wings Preview

The Associated Press

The Detroit Red Wings still are fighting for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, and another home victory over the New Jersey Devils certainly would help their chances.

Detroit can lock up the conference's No. 4 seed with a win and a little help Thursday night when it seeks its 10th consecutive home victory over New Jersey, which looks to continue its recent surge into postseason play.

The Red Wings (48-27-5) have struggled of late, going 4-6-2 over their last 12 games and making their run at finishing in the top half of the conference playoff picture more difficult.

They rallied for a 3-2 shootout win over Central-leading St. Louis on Wednesday, though, clinching their 12th consecutive 100-point season. Detroit sits one point ahead of fifth-place Nashville and three up on sixth-place Chicago.

A Red Wings win, a Predators loss to Dallas in regulation and a Blackhawks loss of any kind to Minnesota on Thursday would guarantee Detroit home-ice advantage in the first round, which may greatly help in its quest for a long playoff run.

The Wings are 31-6-2 at Joe Louis Arena - including an NHL-record 23-game home winning streak from Nov. 5-Feb. 19 - compared to 17-21-3 on the road.

Johan Franzen scored twice Wednesday and said the comeback victory is a boost heading into the regular season's final two games.

''We've been having trouble all year with coming back,'' Franzen said. ''It's usually the team that gets the first goal that wins. Coming back late like this gives the team confidence.''

Detroit has won nine straight at home against New Jersey since a 2-0 loss on Nov. 6, 1996. A victory for the Devils would end that streak of futility while also giving them a season high-tying fifth straight win.

New Jersey (46-28-6) beat the New York Islanders 3-1 on Tuesday behind a goal and an assist from Patrik Elias and Johan Hedberg's 19 saves.

The Devils have clinched a playoff spot and likely will end up with the Eastern Conference's sixth seed, and Hedberg said the final two games will act as a tune up for the postseason.

"We don't want to let our game slip here and come into the playoffs thinking we can just turn it on. It never works that way," Hedberg said. "You have to use these games to fine tune everything and play with the urgency you want to have.

Coach Peter DeBoer, who named Martin Brodeur the starter in goal for Thursday's contest, said New Jersey won't let up despite not being able to finish any higher than fifth in the East while needing some help to do so.

''We want to take care of business, put as many points on the board as we can, and see where the cards come out for the playoffs,'' DeBoer said.

DeBoer has increased the minutes of Travis Zajac, who will be playing his sixth game since returning from an Achilles' tendon injury. Zajac scored Tuesday and said he's improving each day.

''I am getting there,'' Zajac said. "I mean I feel better every game. I feel more confident with the puck and making plays every game."

It's unclear who will start in net for Detroit after Jimmy Howard made 27 saves and three more in the shootout Wednesday. If coach Mike Babcock decides not to start Howard on back-to-back nights, backup Ty Conklin likely will be in net.

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