With a 23rd consecutive playoff berth secured, the Detroit Red Wings have two games left to try chasing down the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Tied with Columbus at 91 points but conceding the tie-breaker, the Red Wings get back to work Friday night at home against the Carolina Hurricanes, a franchise which hasn’t won in Detroit during the regular season in nearly a quarter of a century.
As the Red Wings try to improve to 17-0-0 with one tie since last losing a home game to the Carolina-Hartford franchise on Nov. 14, 1989, coach Mike Babcock isn’t looking at their recent extension of the season as a weight off their shoulders.
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"I don’t know about that," Babcock told the team’s official website. "I don’t think our group has been stressed out or anything like that. I think our group has played hard and had fun doing it. We’ve gotten better. We need to continue to play well."
Detroit (38-27-15) wrapped up one of the East’s wild-card positions in Wednesday’s 4-3 shootout loss at Pittsburgh, a place they may soon return to for a seven-game series if they can beat out the Blue Jackets for the No. 7 seed.
"I like the way we’re playing," forward Daniel Alfredsson said. "We’re going to play Pittsburgh or Boston, two very strong teams, but we’re playing well; I don’t think we’ll go in and be the favorites but we’re going to keep doing what we’ve done all year and that’s go out there and give it everything we have."
After earning the clinching point against the Penguins, Detroit is 5-1-1 since March 29. Tomas Jurco, Jakub Kindl and Riley Sheahan scored as the Red Wings continued to get goals from guys who aren’t used to handling a scoring load.
In an injury-plagued season, Detroit remains without captain Henrik Zetterberg, who is recovering from back surgery, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (finger), and forwards Daniel Cleary (knee) and Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder).
"Everyone gets injuries," Babcock said. "You just can’t get injuries to too many of the wrong people. The rest of these guys have stepped up."
After Jonas Gustavsson started against Pittsburgh, top goaltender Jimmy Howard could be back against the Hurricanes. Howard is 4-0-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average since March 29 and 2-1-0 with a 1.98 GAA and .937 save percentage in his career against Carolina.
The Red Wings also recalled goalie Jared Coreau from Toledo of the ECHL on Thursday.
Detroit has won both meetings with Carolina (34-35-11) this season.
The Hurricanes are also ending this campaign by extending a playoff streak: five straight seasons without a berth, the longest active drought in the East.
They enter a two-game road trip to end their season having lost three straight, including Thursday’s 5-2 defeat in their home finale against Washington.
"It wasn’t good enough. Clearly," Carolina captain Eric Staal said. "We had breakdowns, and they ended up in our net. It just wasn’t good enough, and there’s not much else to say. We needed to be better than we were tonight. I feel bad for the fans who were here watching and came out to support us."
The Hurricanes have scored four goals in three games, but goalie Anton Khudobin didn’t exactly do his part, either, yielding five on 21 shots. It was just the second time this season he’d allowed over three goals. Khudobin came in 3-1-1 with a 1.39 GAA and .955 save percentage since March 27.
He’s never faced Detroit, while teammate Cam Ward is 1-4-1 in his career against the Red Wings.