Penguins-Red Wings Preview
Teams are flipping spots seemingly on a nightly basis in a muddled Eastern Conference playoff race that appears to be going down to the season's final day.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings aren't immune to the confusion, as each club has just as realistic of a chance for home-ice advantage in the first round as it does of missing the postseason altogether.
They will try to bolster their chances of securing one of their division's automatic playoff berths when they meet Saturday in Detroit.
Pittsburgh's six-game winning streak helped it pull within two points of the second-place Rangers in the Metropolitan earlier in the week, but New York's lead doubled with a victory Wednesday and the Penguins' 3-0 loss to New Jersey the following night.
Pittsburgh (40-25-8) also missed a chance to provide some separation from the Islanders and Philadelphia in the division as Sidney Crosby had his 12-game point streak snapped.
"We have to focus on making sure we're better," Crosby said. "We were well rested. We understand how important the games are at this point, but we didn't play well enough. So, we didn't deserve to win that one. I think we know we have to bounce back here next game.''
Detroit (37-26-11) is tied with the Flyers for the second wild-card spot as it seeks a 25th consecutive playoff appearance, but it also has a game in hand while sitting one point behind Boston for third in the Atlantic. It has won three of four to close the gap with help from the Bruins dropping five in a row.
Riley Sheahan scored twice and Anthony Mantha scored his first NHL goal in Thursday's 4-3 win over Montreal.
"It's definitely a nice feeling. We just have to keep that going to Saturday," Sheahan said. "Everything is so close. You win one game and another team loses and you're right back in it with them. It's a race. We're just going to keep track of what those other teams are doing, but worry about us first."
The Red Wings made things interesting, though, by surrendering each goal in the third period after jumping out to a big lead. That didn't sit well with coach Jeff Blashill, and he knows they'll have to be much better against a Pittsburgh team that has won three straight on the road and earned at least one point in its last five visits to Joe Louis Arena (3-0-2).
Detroit is 8-2-1 in its last 11 at home and won't have to face Evgeni Malkin, who has six goals and eight assists in 10 regular-season games against the Red Wings but is on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.
"(The Penguins are) playing great hockey and they're a real good hockey team," Blashill said. "I know when we're playing the right way, we're a real good hockey team, too."
Detroit gave up the first goal in nine of its previous 10 before Sheahan put it ahead against Montreal. Justin Abdelkader and Brendan Smith scored in the first period against visiting Pittsburgh on Dec. 31, but that early lead didn't help as Crosby scored and Kris Letang had two goals and an assist to help the Penguins rally for a 5-2 win.
Crosby had a goal and an assist and Phil Kessel scored twice in a 6-3 home victory in the last meeting Feb. 18. Marc-Andre Fleury, who has a 1.99 goals-against average over his last six starts, made 35 saves in that one and could be in net again.
Petr Mrazek has a 4.12 GAA in four career outings against the Penguins.