By Ashley Dunkak
JOE LOUIS ARENA (CBS DETROIT) – After a 17-day hiatus from NHL games, the Detroit Red Wings start their second-half press toward a 23rd straight playoff berth with a pair of games in Canada.
First up, the Wings face the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. Led by Max Pacioretty with 26 goals and P.K. Subban with 31 assists, the Canadiens had won three straight, and five of their last seven, before the break.
The Canadiens (32-21-6) sit at third place in the Atlantic Division, two spots ahead of Detroit (26-20-12). The Red Wings are clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 64 points, but three other teams sit right beneath Detroit in the wild card standings – Columbus, Ottawa and Washington, all with 63 points. If the regular season ended Tuesday, the Red Wings would face Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs.
Needless to say, immediately facing the Penguins (40-15-3), led by star Sidney Crosby, would not be ideal for Detroit. One spot ahead of the Red Wings, in the first wild card slot, is Toronto, who is on track for a first-round matchup with Boston. Playing the Bruins (37-16-4) would be no cakewalk, either, but it might be an improvement.
Regardless of what opponent the Red Wings draw in the first round of the playoffs, how healthy Detroit stays will be a major factor in whether the organization can extend its postseason streak.
As of Tuesday, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen were both questionable for Wednesday’s game, and neither Stephen Weiss nor Jakub Kindl was expected to be able to play this week, according to detroitredwings.com.
Decisions on Datsyuk and Franzen will be made following Wednesday’s morning skate, while Kindl hopes to return March 4 and Weiss has said he needs a few more practices to get his conditioning back, according to the team’s site.
With star Henrik Zetterberg out of the lineup after undergoing back surgery following one game in the Olympics, the Red Wings need Datsyuk – who has 15 goals and 18 assists for Detroit this season – more than ever.
Datsyuk played in the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day but had missed every game until the last two before the Olympics, where he recorded six points in five games for Russia. Weiss last played Dec. 10 and had surgery to repair a sports hernia. Franzen has played just once since Dec. 15, returning Jan. 26 but experiencing concussion symptoms after playing. Kindl missed Detroit’s last two games before the break.
Zetterberg is expected to be out for at least eight weeks following an operation on a herniated disk in his back. Despite missing most of December for injury, Zetterberg leads the Red Wings with 16 goals and 32 assists.
Zetterberg had returned to Detroit’s lineup and made his usual impact in January and early February. He had helped the Red Wings hit a stride – five wins in their last seven games – as the Olympic break closed in.