Maple Leafs-Red Wings Preview
Urgency is growing for the Detroit Red Wings, but results haven’t followed with three losses in four games and two teams ahead of them for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
With 15 games remaining in their push for a 24th straight playoff appearance, they’re focused on moving into wild-card position as they host the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are trying to climb into the top three in the East, on Tuesday night.
"You just know every game you have to win," defenseman Danny DeKeyser told the team’s official website. "I don’t know if it’s any harder on you mentally compared to the other way around. You just know that from here on out to the end of the year you have to get points in every game.
"That’s how it’s going to be. We just have to finish as hard as we can and get the points when you can as long as the opportunity arises."
The Wings failed to take advantage of one of those opportunities Sunday in a 4-1 loss at Chicago. Gustav Nyquist tied it for Detroit at 1-all late in the second period, but the Blackhawks scored with 14 seconds remaining in that period before taking control in the third.
After recording 20 goals while going 3-1-1 in their first five games after the Olympic break, the Red Wings (30-24-13) have started to feel the absence of top forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Injury issues have continued to mount for Detroit, which has scored three regulation goals in its last four.
"Once the game got to 3-1 (on Sunday), it’s not as good a spot for our team," said coach Mike Babcock, whose substantial injury list has grown with recent additions Tomas Jurco, Joakim Andersson and Todd Bertuzzi. "We don’t have enough goals in our lineup to play like that. We were set up (at 2-1) and we let it slip away."
Jimmy Howard has gone 1-3-1 with a 2.91 goals-against average in his last five starts. He’s also struggled against Toronto in his career with a 0-1-1 record and 2.83 GAA in three starts, the most recent a 3-2 shootout loss at Detroit on Jan. 1.
That evened the season series at 1-all with both games being decided in shootouts.
The Maple Leafs (36-25-8) are hoping to complete a five-game road trip with a winning record after taking two of three in California and losing 4-2 to Washington on Sunday.
They fell behind 3-0 in less than nine minutes before getting goals from Troy Bodie and Dion Phaneuf to pull within one in the second period, during which Toronto held a 20-6 shot advantage.
Despite that, the Leafs were outshot 33-29 after a particularly one-sided first period, during which they gave up 14 shots and managed two.
"We weren’t good enough in the first 10 minutes," goaltender James Reimer said. "You can’t spot a team three goals. We just weren’t sharp, you know? Myself included. And it cost us."
Reimer got the start after No. 1 goalie Jonathan Bernier suffered a groin strain Thursday in a 3-2 win over Los Angeles. Reimer will start against Detroit and try to improve on an 0-1-0 record and 4.54 GAA in two career starts against Toronto.
Leafs top scorer Phil Kessel doesn’t have a point in his last three games with a minus-5 rating in that span. He has eight points in a six-game streak against Detroit.