Steven King/Icon SMI)
The month of March has not been kind to the Detroit Red Wings. The club was forced to play without the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom resulting in an awful slump that is rarely seen in Detroit.
But as the calendar prepares to turn, the Red Wings have gotten healthy and the Motown Machine is ready to roll at the most important time of the year.
Coming off a 5-4 comeback win over Carolina on Saturday night, the Red Wings took little time in showing that there would be no need for a comeback in a 7-2 thrashing of the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets last night at the Joe Louis Arena.
Detroit scored four times in the game’s opening 10 minutes with veteran winger Tomas Holmstrom scoring twice on the power-play. They added two more in the second period and one early in the third before the beleaguered Blue Jackets were able to put two past Red Wings goaltender Ty Conklin.
Henrik Zetterberg and Todd Bertuzzi led the way up front with each collecting four assists on the night, while Nicklas Lidstrom picked up his 11th goal of the season in his second game since returning to the lineup. Pavel Datsyuk was his usual impressive self, registering a goal and an assist, the latter coming in highlight-reel fashion on Gustav Nyquist’s first career goal.
Although home wins over non-playoff teams like Carolina and Columbus would have been expected regardless of their injury situation, it is quite clear that with Datsyuk and Lidstrom back in the mix, the Red Wings have quickly regained their Cup contending form.
With a total of 12 goals in those two games, the team has also re-discovered much of the usual Red Wing swagger that had recently been missing, particularly on home ice. Prior to the win over the Hurricanes, Detroit had dropped four of their previous six home contests after losing just four all year up to that point.
What is perhaps most scary for teams like potential first-round opponents Nashville or Chicago and the rest of the Western Conference playoff teams, is that Detroit still isn’t fully healthy. Johan Franzen and Jimmy Howard remain listed as day-to-day while Darren Helm will be out for at least the next five weeks with a sprained knee. They have also been without defensemen Jonathan Ericsson and back-up netminder Joey MacDonald.
Besides clinching a playoff spot for the 21st consecutive season, last night’s win moved Detroit back on top of Nashville by a single point in what has become an on-going battle for home-ice advantage for the likely first round match-up between the two teams.
The Predators will have a chance to re-claim the lead tonight but will be in tough in St. Louis against the league-leading Blues. Detroit’s next game is much more favorable as they will again take on the Blue Jackets, this time at Nationwide Arena, on Wednesday night.
Central Divison Notes
Chicago Blackhawks – Having missed the last 16 games with a concussion, Jonathan Toews skated yesterday for the sixth straight day and appears to be closing in on a return to the lineup. “Every day I’m pushing myself a little bit harder,” Toews told the Chicago Tribune. “The harder I do go the better. That gives me a lot of confidence knowing that there’s not much I can do to make it worse right now. Every day seems to be a step forward, which is a good thing.”
Columbus Blue Jackets – One bright spot for the Blue Jackets of late has been the play of center Mark Letestu. The 27-year-old scored for the third straight game last night and now has six goals and three assists in 13 March games.
Detroit Red Wings – On top of clinching a playoff spot for an incredible 21st straight season, the Red Wings also received an individual milestone in the win over Columbus. Todd Bertuzzi was a +5 in the game, becoming the first team forward to be have a +5 rating in a game since Brendan Shanahan in 1996.
Nashville Predators – The Predators will hope to continue their success this season against the Blues in an important game for both teams. Leading the season series with a 4-0-1 record, Nashville will be looking to keep pace with Detroit for fourth-place in the West.
St. Louis Blues – Tonight’s game against Nashville also carries great importance for the Blues who head into the game two points ahead of Vancouver for first in the West. With 103 points through 76 games, the club is also battling Vancouver (101), New York (101) and Pittsburgh (100) for the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s regular-season champions.