Red Wings battling for home-ice advantage
There's not enough time for the Detroit Red Wings to catch the St. Louis Blues, who have clinched the Central Division.
However, that does not make Wednesday night's game in St. Louis a meaningless one.
The Wings are still in a battle with the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks for fourth place in the Western Conference, which would give them home-ice advantage in the first round.
The Wings have 99 points in 79 games, the Predators have 98 points in 79 games and the Blackhawks have 98 points in 80 games.
The Blackhawks visit the Wings in the final game of the regular season Saturday afternoon.
For the Blues, they are just one point behind the Vancouver Canucks for first overall in the West. Both teams have three games remaining.
There's also the matter of trying to get the players who were injured back up to speed and get the team as a whole playing at a higher level.
"We're in the playoffs, but there's lots to play for because you got to get playing better," coach Mike Babcock told Mlive.com in St. Louis. "If you were rolling along it would be a totally different thing. We're not rolling along. You want to get rolling along, so you need to engage."
Even though Babcock has praised the play of defenseman Jonathan Ericsson since his return from a broken wrist, Ericsson is glad to have a few more games before the playoffs start.
"It would be tough to jump right into a playoff game. Those games are so intense and important, so it's really good for me to get back and play a few games and get my confidence back a little bit and feel a little more comfortable out there," Ericsson said.
Babcock will pair Ericsson with captain Nick Lidstrom again.
"All of our (defensemen) are trying to have the same mentality out there, don't throw away the puck too much," Ericsson said. "Nick does everything so well and creates time for you. I'm not nervous at all. It's just an honor to play with him and try to embrace that as a challenge of playing against other teams' top lines."
HOW HAVE BLUES DONE IT?
The amazing thing about the Blues and their coach, likely Jack Adams Trophy winner Ken Hitchcock, is that it's more the way they play that has led to their success rather than individual stars leading the way.
Not one Blues player has more than 54 points (David Backes, 24 goals and 30 assists). Despite all of their injuries, the Wings have three players with 64 or more points. Pavel Datsyuk has 64, Valtteri Filppula has 65 and Henrik Zetterberg has 68.
"They've been building the team, kept the core guys and built around that," Zetterberg said. "They have four good lines. Everyone can go in and all lines are playing tough. They're big, strong guys, and at the same time when they get chances they can shoot the puck.
"They've been working a long time and everything is clicking for them now, so it's going to be a challenge for us."
Defenseman Brad Stuart said the Wings should not try to force anything, just play a simple, disciplined game.
"We have to be patient," Stuart said. "We know they're going to be playing a strong defensive game, and if we're trying to constantly force things in the middle, plays that aren't there, they're going to counter and get their opportunities. We have to try to work them in their own zone and make play in their own zone. Put the puck on net and get to the net. All those simple things you always talk about, but it works."
Goaltender Jimmy Howard, who will play against the Blues, knows he can't allow much because the Blues certainly won't.
"The key to beating them, when we've been successful, is we've been resilient," Howard said. "They're a really good team, they don't give up much, so you got to keep just going at them because once you sit back they'll completely take over the game."
Babcock did not say whether Howard would play again Thursday when the Wings host the New Jersey Devils.
QUINCEY TO SERVE SUSPENSION
Defenseman Kyle Quincey, who received a one-game suspension for his hit on Florida's Tomas Kopecky, a former Wings player, will sit Wednesday night.
"I respect the decision," said Quincey, who did not plan to appeal.
Although Quincey said after the game that he was not trying to hurt Kopecky, his former teammate with the Grand Rapids Griffins, he understood that when he left his feet, it was not going to look good.
"It had nothing to do with the elbow; it was that my feet were up in the air, so that was the issue," Quincey said.