(SportsNetwork.com) - Mike Babcock was behind the bench to lead Canada to a second straight gold medal at the Sochi Olympics, but the Red Wings head coach is now faced with the unenviable task of getting Detroit back to the playoffs for a 23rd straight season.
Babcock's Red Wings hope to aid their postseason quest on Wednesday, when they return from the NHL's Olympic break to visit the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre.
Detroit would be in the playoffs if the season ended right now, but the club is only one point ahead of a three teams -- Columbus, Ottawa and Washington -- for the Eastern Conference's final berth.
While Babcock was coaching Canada to gold, the captain of his NHL team -- Henrik Zetterberg -- was recovering from recent back surgery. Zetterberg suited up for Team Sweden once in Sochi before returning to the United States to have a procedure that removed what Red Wings general manager Ken Holland called a "floating piece of a disk lodged in a nerve in his back."
After undergoing the surgery on Friday, Zetterberg, who is leading Detroit in goals (16) and assists (32) this season, is expected to be out of action for 7-to-8 weeks.
Zetterberg's absence could make it difficult for the Red Wings to keep their amazing postseason appearance streak going, but the club is still eager to get back to the task at hand. After visiting Montreal, which is six points ahead of Detroit in the Atlantic Division and East standings, the Red Wings will make a stop to battle the playoff-hopeful Senators on Thursday.
"Two of the biggest games of the year by far. We're chasing Montreal and Ottawa is chasing us," said Red Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey. "So there's nothing like having 20-odd days off and coming back and playing huge games. We know the playoffs are going to come down to one or two points, so easily it could come down to these two games. We know that going in and that's why we're so focused on getting ready for them."
Wednesday's game marks the continuation of a five-game road trip that began before the Olympics. Detroit, which is 15-9-4 as the guest this season compared to a poor 11-11-8 mark at home, split road games against Florida and Tampa Bay before the NHL went on hiatus.
Following Thursday's showdown with the Senators, the Red Wings will have four full days of rest before capping their swing next Tuesday at New Jersey.
Montreal, meanwhile, enters Tuesday hoping to pick up where it left off. The Canadiens won their last three games before the Olympics and went 5-1-1 over their seven final outings prior to the break. The Habs are sitting one point behind Tampa Bay for second place in the Atlantic and eight in back of Boston for the division lead. The Canadiens also are locked in a tie with rival Toronto in both the Atlantic and East standings.
The Habs were hoping goaltender Carey Price could continue his hot play after anchoring Babcock's Team Canada to a gold medal at the Sochi Games, but he will miss at least the next two games after suffering a lower-body injury at practice on Wednesday morning.
Montreal recalled netminder Dustin Tokarski from its AHL affiliate in Hamilton. Peter Budaj will get the start tonight.
Price posted consecutive shutouts for Canada in the semifinals and gold medal game and ended the Olympic tournament with a 5-0 record, a 0.59 goals against average and .972 save percentage.
All told, Price allowed three goals on 106 shots and ended the Winter Games on a shutout streak of 164 minutes, 19 seconds.
"Obviously it was a pretty cool life experience," Price told his team's official web site upon his return from Russia.
Price was already having a stellar year for the Habs before his Olympic triumph. He is 26-17-5 with a 2.33 GAA and .925 save percentage in 48 games this season.
While the club will be without for this evening's test and Thursday's game in Pittsburgh, Montreal will get forward Alex Galchenyuk back in the lineup on Wednesday for the first time since Jan. 6. Galchenyuk, who broke his hand in a game against Florida, has 10 goals and 13 assists in 44 games this season.
The Red Wings posted a 4-1 home win over Montreal on Jan. 24 in the first of four regular-season meetings between the clubs this season. It was the third win for Detroit over the last four games of this series.