A preview of a potential first-round playoff matchup is on tap tonight in the Motor City, as the Detroit Red Wings host the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena.
The Red Wings are seeded fourth in the West, one point ahead of Nashville, and neither team has much of a chance at winning the Central Division title. St. Louis leads the division by nine points over Detroit and the Blues are 10 points in front of Nashville. Both the Wings and Predators have five games left in the regular season, while St. Louis has four tests remaining.
If Detroit and Nashville finish the season as the fourth and fifth seeds in the West then they will meet in the conference quarterfinals. However, another Central Division rival, the Chicago Blackhawks, are also just one point behind the Predators in the conference standings.
The Red Wings have won three of the five meetings against Nashville so far this season and Detroit is 2-0 in the encounters at Joe Louis Arena. The Wings have claimed four of six overall in this series and the Preds have lost five of their last eight tilts in Motown.
Both Detroit and the Predators are coming off losses in their last contests, and the Red Wings' setback once again highlighted the club's road woes.
Detroit slammed the visiting Blue Jackets by a 7-2 score on Monday in the opening test of a home-and-home series, but the Red Wings were then dealt a 4-2 loss Wednesday evening in Columbus. The setback dropped Detroit to 16-21-3 as the road team this season compared to a stellar 30-5-2 record at home.
R.J. Umberger notched a goal and an assist on Monday to lead the lowly Blue Jackets, who are already assured of finishing last in the NHL standings.
Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall scored for the Red Wings, who had a two- game win streak halted and lost for the seventh time in nine games (2-5-2). Ty Conklin allowed four goals on 31 shots in the loss.
"It was just a poor effort on our part. Give them credit for coming back tonight after being embarrassed on Monday," said Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. "We weren't prepared to play today. We didn't compete."
Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard could see his first action in net tonight since March 19. Detroit's No. 1 netminder has sat out recently with a strained groin, but he will suit up this evening. Babcock is still unsure if he will start Howard or Conklin tonight.
The Predators are coming off Tuesday's 3-0 loss in St. Louis, a setback that marked the first time Nashville had been shut out since Jan. 17 against the New York Rangers. Brian Elliott made 24 saves to earn his third straight shutout for the Blues.
Pekka Rinne allowed all three goals on 24 shots as Nashville had its two-game win streak snapped.
"The goals that they got were gritty goals we knew that we were going to have to get gritty goals against the St. Louis Blues," Nashville head coach Barry Trotz said. "We had a couple of chances and when we did, we weren't able to get the second and third opportunities that you need to do that."
This evening's test is the finale of a three-game road trip for the Predators, who have a solid 20-16-3 mark as the guest this year. Nashville will play its next three games as the host before closing the regular season in Colorado on April 7.
Forward Martin Erat and defenseman Roman Josi are both questionable for Nashville tonight with upper-body issues, while forward Jordin Tootoo is expected to sit out his second straight game with a head injury.