Right on the edge of the Western Conference playoff picture, the Detroit Red Wings aim to avoid a second straight loss on Thursday night as they play host to the San Jose Sharks.
The Red Wings have not missed the postseason since 1990 and their current string of 21 straight playoff appearances is the longest active run in all of North American professional sports. However, they come into this game needing points as they sit eighth overall in the West and just one point ahead of ninth-seeded Phoenix and two in front of the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Detroit lost for the fourth time in six games on Sunday, falling to the visiting St. Louis Blues 1-0. It also marked the club's fourth setback in its past five at home.
Jimmy Howard made 24 saves and gave up the game's only goal with 3:32 left in the second period. Pavel Datsyuk, meanwhile, nearly put home the game-tying goal with 20.9 seconds to play and Howard on the bench for an extra attacker, but St. Louis' Brian Elliott finished off his shutout with a glove save on a shot through a screen.
"I thought it was a real good game and our guys competed hard," said Detroit head coach Mike Babcock. "We executed real good and both sides had their chances, but it was them who got one to go in. This was playoff hockey."
Babcock will look for his offense to get going tonight and forward Damien Brunner is likely to return from a two-game absence caused by a sore hip flexor. The 27-year-old has 11 goals and 22 points in 35 games during his first NHL season.
The Sharks sit four points ahead of the Red Wings in the standings and fifth overall, one point behind the Los Angeles Kings. Figuring out how to pick up some road victories would help the club in its quest for a postseason spot as San Jose is 6-11-2 on the road.
After a 6-0-1 homestand that ended with a shootout loss to Dallas on Sunday, the Sharks dropped the opener of a four-game swing on Tuesday with a 4-0 decision at the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Antti Niemi was pulled in the third period after giving up four goals on 26 shots. Thomas Greiss made four saves in relief.
"We looked kind of flat," Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart said. "We have to put it on ourselves to be ready and on top of our game when the puck drops."
San Jose has lost seven of its past nine on the road.
The Sharks and Red Wings have split two previous meetings this season, both in San Jose. The Pacific Division contenders have won seven of the last nine encounters overall and four of their last five trips to Detroit.