With their epic string of consecutive playoff appearances on the line, the Detroit Red Wings answered the call on Wednesday night.
The Red Wings won't get much of a chance to catch their breath as they get right back into things on Thursday night with another huge matchup against the Nashville Predators.
Detroit has been a playoff participant in 21 straight postseasons, having not missed the playoff since 1990. The club entered play on Wednesday ninth overall in the Western Conference, but a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings allowed it to jump over the idle Columbus Blue Jackets and into eighth place.
That has the Red Wings in control of their own destiny as they are one point up on the Blue Jackets with two games to play for both clubs. Wednesday's win gave Detroit 20 non-shootout victories on the season to Columbus' 17, giving the Red Wings the tiebreaker.
The Blue Jackets are visiting the Dallas Stars on Thursday night. A victory and any type of loss by Columbus would clinch a playoff spot for Detroit, as would a point and a regulation setback for the Blue Jackets.
"We still have two more games to go here," said Red Wings forward Jordin Tootoo. "It's a matter of looking forward to (Thursday) night here. We need points every night. The first five minutes (against Nashville) is going to be the most important part. Obviously we played tonight and Nashville hasn't. It's going to be all about good leadership in the dressing room and making good plays."
Tootoo and Johan Franzen scored in the third period in last night's win, while Pavel Datsyuk added a goal and Henrik Zetterberg notched two assists. Jimmy Howard stopped 23 shots in the victory, Detroit's second in a row following a 1-2-3 slide.
"Our problem hasn't been giving up goals, our problem has been scoring goals," Detroit head coach Mike Babcock said. "Tonight we were able to get three, which is real positive for us."
Babcock might not have Franzen available for tonight's game as he was unable to finish the contest last night because of an undisclosed injury. However, forward Todd Bertuzzi may return from a back injury that has kept him out since Feb. 7.
Howard, expected to start the second night of back-to-back games, is 8-5-1 with a 2.20 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 16 career meetings with the Preds. He owns three career shutouts against them, notching one in each of the last two meetings.
He stopped 33 shots in a 4-0 home win on Feb. 23, which came four days after a shootout loss to the Predators in Nashville. Howard then blanked the club again on April 14, turning aside 22 shots in a 3-0 road win.
The Predators are playing out the string as they will miss the playoffs for just the second time in the past nine seasons. They snapped an eight-game slide with Tuesday's 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames, their first win since April 2.
Austin Watson scored his first NHL goal in what was his sixth career game, while fellow rookie Filip Forsberg picked up his first career point, an assist, in his fourth game.
Watson was a 2010 first-round pick by the Preds, while Forsberg, taken 11th overall in last year's draft, was acquired from the Washington Capitals on April 3.
Matt Halischuk, Nick Spaling and David Legwand also scored in Tuesday's win, while Pekka Rinne made 15 saves.
"The guys have been working hard and they are not getting rewarded," said Nashville head coach Barry Trotz. "Tonight it was good to get rewarded."
The Predators are playing their final two games of the season on the road and will be in Columbus on Saturday.