The Toronto Maple Leafs are attempting to ride a late surge toward their first playoff berth in six seasons. Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, meanwhile, has a much simpler goal for his club.
Detroit is hoping to get healthy before what could be its 20th consecutive postseason appearance, but it’s had trouble beating Toronto recently even with a more complete lineup.
With Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen expected to sit out again, the Red Wings will try to avoid a fourth consecutive loss Saturday night when they face the Maple Leafs, who are seeking a fourth straight win.
Toronto (34-31-10) has steadily climbed into the playoff race by going 15-6-5 since the beginning of February. Heading into their trip to Joe Louis Arena, the Maple Leafs are 10th in the Eastern Conference – five points behind eighth-place Buffalo.
“We just have to get some wins ourselves and sooner or later we’ll get some help,” defenseman Luke Schenn said.
After enduring a 2-4-1 stretch earlier this month, Toronto has gotten back on track by outscoring its past three opponents 12-5. Nikolai Kulemin had two early goals and Phil Kessel added a key power-play score in the third period during a 4-3 win in Colorado on Thursday.
James Reimer, who made 25 saves, has a 1.50 goals-against average during a career-best, four-game win streak and has made each start during the Maple Leafs’ run, which is one shy of matching a season high.
“We’re happy with the way we’re playing right now,” Reimer said. “I just hope we can keep it going.”
The Red Wings, meanwhile, are hoping to maintain their lead atop the Central Division but have struggled lately as injuries have mounted. Datsyuk and Franzen have missed each game during their team’s 0-2-1 skid with lower-body ailments.
Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson is expected to miss Saturday’s game with the flu, and goaltender Chris Osgood could be out until the playoffs with a nagging groin injury. Detroit is trying to avoid matching its four-game skid to start this month.
Babcock had one wish for his team following a 2-1 loss to NHL-best Vancouver on Wednesday, which hurt Detroit’s chances of finishing atop the Western Conference standings. The Red Wings still hold a five-point lead over Nashville in its division and is eight ahead of eighth-place Anaheim.
“Get healthy,” Babcock said. “Getting healthy would be a home run for us.”
Todd Bertuzzi, who missed his first game in two seasons Wednesday, could return from a back injury. If he dresses, he’ll try to help the Red Wings (43-22-9) snap a three-game skid to the Maple Leafs.
In the previous matchup on Nov. 7, 2009, Toronto jumped out to a 3-0 lead en route to a 5-1 home victory. The Maple Leafs scored all of their goals on Osgood but have never faced Jimmy Howard.
The Red Wings might also face Reimer for the first time as they try to win for the fifth time in seven home games in the series.
The teams are meeting in Detroit for the first time since Toronto’s 3-2 win on Oct. 9, 2008. Kulemin scored what proved to be the deciding goal in that game.
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