DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers are both having trouble making progress toward their respective postseason goals.
The teams, though, have a chance to earn some key points at the expense of each other during Sunday’s matchup at Joe Louis Arena.
Having been eliminated from contention for another Central Division title, Detroit (46-27-5) has set its sights on the next best thing, home-ice advantage for the opening round of the playoffs. The Red Wings, set to make a team-record 21st consecutive postseason appearance, haven’t helped themselves by going 3-8-2 over their last 13.
Detroit lost its spot in the Western Conference’s top four with a 4-1 home defeat to Nashville on Friday. The Predators overtook the Red Wings in the standings by scoring the game’s first three goals during Jimmy Howard’s return to the net.
“Our sights are on getting that fourth seed and home ice,” said Howard, who had missed four consecutive games because of a groin injury. “We’ve got to continue to work hard in practice, refine details and find a way to get back to fourth place.”
Howard is expected to be back in net for his first matchup with the Panthers (37-25-16), who are trying to hold on to their lead in the Southeast Division. Florida, seeking its first division title and first playoff berth since 2000, is 1-2-3 in its last six and went 2-4-2 on the road in March.
They failed to earn a point against the West’s last-place team, Columbus, on Friday. The 4-1 loss also marked the seventh straight game the team failed to score more than two goals.
“You got to trust each other and play,” defenseman Brian Campbell said. “You can’t play scared. Nobody’s a good player playing that way. We’ve got four games left to pour it on. Everybody knows what’s at stake.”
After visiting Detroit, Florida will return home for the first of three straight games against division teams to end the season. One of those is a matchup with Washington, its only remaining challenger in the Southeast, in the nation’s capital on Thursday.
The Panthers will try to head into those games with some momentum by earning only their fifth win in 22 all-time games against Detroit. Florida lost 4-3 at home to the Red Wings on Feb. 18, 2011, as Todd Bertuzzi scored a pair of goals, including the tiebreaker in the third period.
The Panthers, though, prevailed 2-1 in overtime during their most recent visit to Joe Louis Arena on Nov. 20, 2009, to end a six-game winless streak in Michigan that began during the 1997-98 season.
Stephen Weiss scored the tying goal and assisted on the winning one during his team’s second victory in 10 trips to Detroit, while Scott Clemmensen stopped 39 shots.
Clemmensen, though, might be watching from the bench as Jose Theodore tries to end a season-high, five-game skid. Theodore is 3-2-0 with a 2.79 goals-against average in his last five games against the Red Wings but has lost six of seven all-time starts in Detroit, including two in the 2008 playoffs for Colorado.
Henrik Zetterberg had a pair of assists the last time he faced Theodore, a 4-2 win over Minnesota last April. The Red Wings winger has four goals and five assists during a five-game point streak, and Jiri Hudler has scored in three of last four contests.
Zetterberg has a goal and five assists over his last five games against Florida, while Hudler has two assists in four all-time matchups.
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