(SportsNetwork.com) - The Detroit Red Wings have managed to stay in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race despite missing some of their top players due to injury.
Head coach Mike Babcock had hoped to get one of those pieces back on Wednesday when the Red Wings continue their quest for a 23rd straight playoff appearance in a home game against the red-hot Boston Bruins, but it was not to be for the tough-luck club.
The Red Wings have battled a slew of injuries this season, including costly ones to top forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. While Zetterberg is still sidelined indefinitely following back surgery, leaving Detroit without its captain, Datsyuk is close to returning from a knee injury that has held him out since Feb. 27.
Datsyuk, who has 33 points in just 39 games this season, skated in his first full practice with the team in over a month on Tuesday, but was ruled out for this game on Wednesday morning.
There is hope he can return to action on Friday, but that is no sure thing.
"Yeah, waiting too long," Datsyuk told Detroit's website. "Would love to play as soon as possible but I need to be careful."
Forward Daniel Alfredsson will also miss tonight's game due to a lower-body injury.
The eventual return of Datsyuk could be a big boost for the Red Wings, who have had an up-and-down March, going 7-6-2 to just keep their heads above water in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Red Wings are coming off consecutive victories and enter Wednesday with 84 points, good enough for the first of two wild card spots in the East. The Columbus Blue Jackets own the second postseason berth with 83 points, while the Toronto Maple Leafs are one point off the pace.
The Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils also are both within four points of the Red Wings.
Detroit halted a three-game slide with Saturday's big win in Toronto and then began a three-game homestand with another regulation victory Sunday against Tampa Bay.
Former Red Wing Valtteri Filppula handed Tampa a 1-0 lead in Sunday's tilt, but Detroit scored the game's next three goals and used a solid performance from backup netminder Jonas Gustavsson to hold on for the 3-2 win.
Gustavsson stopped 26 shots to help the Wings win for the fifth time in eight games. Gustav Nyquist, David Legwand and Joakim Andersson all scored for Detroit.
"I thought we had a real solid game hear today," said Nyquist. "Our penalty kill was solid and our power play worked a lot better. It was just a real good team game we had."
Nyquist has come up big for Detroit in the second half of the season and was named the NHL's Second Star in March after registering 12 goals and six assists last month. The 24-year-old Swedish winger leads the league with 22 tallies since Jan. 20 and has a team-high 27 markers on the season.
Detroit has a tough test ahead of it on Wednesday, as the Bruins enter this contest with a 15-0-1 record over their last 16 games. Boston has won three consecutive tilts since having a 12-game winning streak -- the club's longest in 43 years -- halted with a shootout loss in Montreal on March 24. The Bruins haven't lost in regulation since dropping a 4-2 decision against a visiting Washington Capitals club on March 1.
However, the Bruins, who clinched the Atlantic Division title over the weekend, have not fared well against Detroit recently, losing six of the last seven games in this Original Six matchup.
Boston recorded a 4-1 home win over the Red Wings to open the four-game season series on Oct. 5, but Detroit has won both encounters since. The last meeting was on Nov. 27, when the Wings slammed the visiting Bruins by a 6-1 score. That loss still stands as Boston's largest margin of defeat this season and it marked Detroit's third straight home win over the B's.
Jimmy Howard will get the start for Detroit on Wednesday and he boasts a 3-1-0 record and a 2.20 goals against average in four career games against the Bruins. Boston's Tuukka Rask is 1-3-1 with a 3.60 GAA in five lifetime appearances against the Red Wings.
After clinching the division crown with Saturday's 4-2 win at Washington, the Bruins picked up a third straight victory the following day in Philadelphia. The 4-3 decision was also the club's ninth consecutive road win, setting a new club record for a winning streak outside of Boston. The current streak bests the road mark set by the team in 1971-72 and equaled in 1992-93.
Although Boston allowed the Flyers to tie the game on a Vincent Lecavalier goal with 24.1 seconds left in the third period, Reilly Smith scored the game- winner in the fifth round of the shootout.
Patrice Bergeron scored for the seventh straight game in the win, giving him the longest current goal-scoring streak in the NHL. With eight goals during the tear, Boston's valuable two-way forward now has 27 markers on the season. Bergeron is four goals shy of matching his career-best total of 31 goals set during the 2005-06 season.
Zdeno Chara and former Flyer Andrej Meszaros supplied Boston's other goals, while Rask recorded a career-high 49 saves for the Bruins, who have taken at least one point in each of their last 16 road games (13-0-3), also a franchise record.
Boston is playing the third part of a four-game road trip tonight and is 23-10-3 as the guest this season. Detroit, meanwhile, is just 16-12-10 as the host this season.