Blackhawks keep eye on division title vs. hopeful Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings are battling for every point to try and make the playoffs for a 22nd straight season.

The Chicago Blackhawks, however, have already clinched a postseason berth and will try to move closer to a second division title in four years when they host the rival Red Wings in Friday's clash at United Center.

The Blackhawks sealed up a playoff spot last weekend and are closing in on another Central Division crown. Chicago, which last won the division during its Stanley Cup championship season of 2009-10, is currently 16 points ahead of St. Louis with nine games left for both teams.

The Blues are visiting Columbus on Friday night, giving Chicago an opportunity to clinch the division. If St. Louis loses tonight in regulation then the Blackhawks would only need to gain a point to wrap up the Central.

The Blackhawks also are five points ahead of Anaheim for the top seed in the Western Conference and two ahead of Pittsburgh for the NHL lead.

Detroit, meanwhile, is holding onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the West and is two ahead of Phoenix, which plays Friday at Calgary. The Red Wings last missed the postseason in the spring of 1990 and have the longest active playoff streak in all of North American professional sports.

The Red Wings have lost two straight and three of their last four games, but have been able to earn three points during a 1-2-1 stretch. Detroit picked up one point on Thursday when it dropped a 3-2 shootout decision against visiting San Jose.

Patrick Marleau supplied the decisive shootout goal for the Sharks, beating Jimmy Howard through the five-hole with a wrister.

Justin Abdelkader and Jakub Kindl lit the lamp in regulation for the Red Wings. Howard, who said Thursday that he is close to signing a six-year contract extension to remain in Detroit, stopped 28 shots.

"We're in a dogfight. We'd like to get two points, but, to me, we're just going to keep battling, keep worrying about the process and doing good things, and in the end, good things will happen to us. We just got to compete hard," said Detroit head coach Mike Babcock.

The Red Wings will have to battle the next four games on the road, where they are 9-8-2 this season. After tonight, Detroit will visit Nashville, Calgary and Vancouver to close out the four-game swing.

Detroit will have to earn a rare recent win against Chicago to add two points in Friday's game and the Red Wings also will try to overcome an embarrassing loss in the most recent encounter between the clubs. The Blackhawks notched a 7-1 win in Detroit on March 31, giving Chicago wins in six straight and 11 of the last 14 games in this series.

The Red Wings also have dropped two straight and three of their last four games in the Windy City.

Chicago enters Friday having won three straight and the club has recorded a point in six consecutive games, posting a 5-0-1 mark over that stretch.

The Blackhawks last played on Tuesday and they only needed one goal to earn the win in Minnesota. Marian Hossa scored an unassisted goal in the second period, and Ray Emery made it hold up, as Chicago eked past the Wild, 1-0.

Emery made 20 saves to post his third shutout in his past five starts, while Hossa scored his first goal in four games since returning from an upper body injury.

The Wild were done in by one mistake late in the middle stanza, as Clayton Stoner telegraphed his outlet pass in the defensive zone. Hossa crept in from the blue line, picked off the ill-advised feed and beat Niklas Backstrom with a slap shot between the pads with 4:46 remaining in the stanza.

"The timing was right," Hossa said. "The puck hit me basically on the tape."

Hossa, who has 14 markers this season, scored for the first time since a two- goal performance against Colorado on March 18.

The Blackhawks are playing four of their next five games at home, where they are 14-3-2 this season.