Had things gone slightly better last week, tonight’s game in Detroit could have had huge playoff implications for the Coyotes. But even though the odds of a postseason berth have been severely diminished, there is still a ray of playoff hope left for the Coyotes, and if they wants to keep that faint hope alive, they must find a way to win against the Red Wings.
Detroit enters the game in similarly dire straits, having blown a chance to all but wrap up the final playoff spot due to a 3-4-3 slide over its last 10 games. The Red Wings now trail the Wild and Blue Jackets by three points apiece for one of the final two Western Conference playoff spots, although Detroit has two games in hand on Columbus and one on Minnesota.
Even with a win in Motown, the Coyotes will still be in 11th place in the Western Conference standings despite being tied with the Red Wings and Stars in points. Both those teams own the first playoff tiebreaker by virtue of their greater number of regulation/overtime wins.
But if the Coyotes can pull even with those two, it could make for a very interesting final week of the season.
"It's do or die right now for us as far as making the playoffs," goalie Mike Smith said following Saturday’s shootout win in Chicago. "We've got to put our bodies on the line and do what we have to do to win games.”
THREE KEY OPPONENT STATS
Streak in jeopardy: Detroit has qualified for the postseason in 21 straight seasons, but the league’s longest streak is in serious jeopardy this year. The Red Wings trail the Blue Jackets and Wild, who are tied for seventh/eighth, by three points entering this game. The Red Wings have four games left, and the schedule is not easy. Following tonight’s game, Detroit hosts defending Cup champ L.A and slumping Nashville before finishing the season at Dallas, a team that is also vying for a playoff spot.
One to watch: Red Wings forward Johan Franzen has three goals in his past four games and eight points in his last nine games.
2.43: It seems odd to see a Detroit team so low in the league in goals per game, but that’s the case for the Red Wings this season. Detroit ranks 24th in the league in scoring and hasn’t netted more than three goals in a game since March 22.
THREE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Datsyuk dangling: The Red Wings plan to discuss a contract extension with all-world center Pavel Datsyuk prior to June 20. The 34-year Russian star will enter the final year of his contract next season at a rate of $6.7 million. Some believe he will return to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League when his contract is over, but his agent said no decision has been made yet, adding that Datsyuk has no intention of playing for another NHL club. If he stays in the NHL, it will be with Detroit.
Division departure: This is the final season in which Detroit will play in the same division as longtime rival Chicago. That change is probably the biggest negative in a mostly positive NHL realignment plan for next season. However, the Red Wings could send the series out with a bang if they can qualify as the No. 8 seed. That would match them up with the Blackhawks in the first round in what would surely be a must-see series given the fast-paced, highly skilled skating style the two teams employ.
Howard happy: Detroit recently locked up goalie Jimmy Howard to a six-year deal worth about $31.8 million, which averages out to an annual salary cap hit of just under $5.3 million per season. That figure will certainly be of interest to the Coyotes and free-agent-to-be goalie Mike Smith, who has apparently asked for a larger annual figure, although the length of the requested deal is not yet known. Howard has a .920 save percentage this season, the third time in the past four years that he's posted a save percentage that high. Smith has just one season with a save percentage higher than .912 – last season, when he posted a .930 mark.
For the Coyotes, F Lauri Korpikoski is out with an upper-body injury. For the Red Wings, F Todd Bertuzzi (back) has been out since Feb. 7 with a pinched nerve in his back but told reporters Saturday that he feels close to being able to return. Fs Drew Miller (hand) and Darren Helm (back) are out for the season, while F Mikael Samuelsson (pectoral) is day-to-day.