A week ago, the Detroit Red Wings were on a season-worst skid and their once-solid Central Division lead was starting to look a little shaky.
Three straight wins have changed that, and the Red Wings will try to keep rolling Thursday night by adding to their recent dominance over the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets.
Detroit’s 0-2-2 slump to open this month cut its lead in the Central from a healthy 10 points to five, but the Red Wings (42-20-8) have pushed that advantage back to eight thanks to its current streak.
That includes a 3-2 home victory over red-hot Washington, which had won nine in a row. After failing to score in nine straight games, Henrik Zetterberg had two goals, including the tiebreaker midway through the third period.
“Every time you’re in a slump, you start to think, you start to doubt yourself, so it’s definitely good for the confidence to see you can still score goals,” Zetterberg said.
A matchup with the Blue Jackets (32-27-10) could help the Red Wings could move a step closer to their ninth division title in 10 seasons and a franchise record-tying 20th consecutive playoff berth.
Detroit is 9-1-2 in its last 12 matchups with division-rival Columbus, and 4-0-2 over the last six trips to Nationwide Arena. The Red Wings, though, fell 3-2 in a shootout in their previous trip there Jan. 14, and 3-0 at Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 4.
The Blue Jackets don’t seem primed to repeat those efforts as they’re 1-4-4 in their last nine games, and lost their third straight at home Tuesday, 3-2 in a shootout to Boston.
Scottie Upshall gave his team a lead with 7:41 remaining but Columbus gave up the tying score just over two minutes later. After failing to score in the extra session, the Blue Jackets missed all three attempts in the tiebreaker, but coach Scott Arniel was still pleased by his team’s effort.
“We’re as happy as you can be without getting two points,” he said. “I said to the coaches that was one of our best games in probably two or three weeks.”
Arniel’s club is hoping to build off that game by avoiding its longest home losing streak in one season since a franchise-worst, seven-game slide from Jan. 29-March 7, 2008. To help accomplish that feat, the Blue Jackets could use more help from Antoine Vermette, who has a team-best five points this season against Detroit.
Vermette had a goal and an assist and Steve Mason made 34 saves during the victory in February. Mason, who has started seven of eight games this month, is 3-6-2 with a 2.92 goals-against average in his last 11 games against the Red Wings.
Detroit’s Jimmy Howard is 7-1-1 with a 1.63 GAA in his career versus Columbus, and the NHL’s co-leader with 17 road victories. Playing back-to-back nights, the Red Wings could look to recently recalled Joey MacDonald, who beat the Blue Jackets on Jan. 15 despite allowing five goals.
Whoever starts will try to get help from Valtteri Filppula and Drew Miller, who each have five points in this season’s series.
Columbus captain Rick Nash, meanwhile, will try to avoid his ninth consecutive game without a goal, which would match the longest drought in his career.
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