Wild postseason hopes to be tested by Red Wings

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By Alan Ferguson

Stats Writer

Minnesota (37-32-9) at Detroit (49-19-9), 12:30 p.m. EDT

DETROIT (AP) -- Behind their reliable defense, the Minnesota

Wild have been able to stay in the playoff hunt. The Detroit Red

Wings, meanwhile, are still trying to find more consistent play

in their end before the postseason begins.

The Wild will look to keep their slim playoff hopes alive and

extend the Red Wings' home losing streak on Sunday, but

Minnesota hasn't experienced much success recently at Joe Louis

Arena.

Entering Sunday's play, the Wild (37-32-9) are three points

behind the Western Conference's final postseason berth with four

games remaining.

Niklas Backstrom helped keep Minnesota in the race with Friday's

4-0 win over visiting Calgary, making 27 saves for his

team-record eighth shutout of the season.

Giving up 17 goals in his last nine starts, Backstrom has tried

to make his case as a Vezina Trophy candidate, and he has

allowed more than two in a game only twice in that time.

Backstrom is among the league leaders with a 2.32 goals-against

average, but is 1-2-1 with a 3.56 goals-against average in his

career versus Detroit.

While Backstrom's play Friday was not surprising, Minnesota's

three first-period goals were.

"I think the desperation in our game was evident in the first

period," said forward Cal Clutterbuck, who snapped a 30-game

scoring drought. "This was it for us as far as playoff chances.

We wanted to get it, and we got it."

The Wild have alternated wins and losses in their last nine

games, and an inconsistent offense can take most of the blame.

In going 5-3-1, Minnesota has scored 18 goals in its victories,

but only four in its defeats.

Marian Gaborik and Andrew Brunette, however, have provided

consistent scoring. Gaborik has six goals and three assists

since returning on March 22 from hip surgery, and Brunette has

four goals and three assists in the last five games.

Despite a 5-2 home win in the teams' previous meeting Feb. 21,

the Wild haven't performed well against the Red Wings, going

3-8-2 since Jan. 20, 2006. After joining the NHL in 2000,

Minnesota has won in four of its 15 trips to Detroit, and once

in the last five.

The Wild, however, will face a Red Wings team that has looked

anything like the defending Stanley Cup champions during a

season-high three-game home skid. The losing streak has all but

ended Detroit's chances to win a second straight Presidents'

Trophy and finish first in the West for a fifth consecutive

season.

For the second straight game, the Red Wings rallied only to give

the game away. In Thursday's 5-4 loss to St. Louis, Detroit

(49-19-9) scored with 4:43 remaining to tie it at 4, but the

Blues responded 36 seconds later by beating Ty Conklin.

"Obviously, the job I'm doing here, the team is not ready,"

coach Mike Babcock said. "So, myself and the leadership group

here, as a group of individuals, we've got to do better than

this. This is unacceptable."

For Sunday's game, Babcock is expected to start Chris Osgood,

who has allowed four goals in two victories this season against

Minnesota but hasn't won in his last three starts.

The Red Wings will make their fourth attempt to join Boston

(1970-74) and Montreal (1975-79) as the only teams with four

consecutive 50-win seasons, and Babcock would become the first

coach with four straight 50-win campaigns since Scotty Bowman

with the Canadiens in 1979.

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