Nashville Predators center Steve Sullivan, right, tries to take the puck past Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski, left, in the first period of an NHL hockey game on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2009 in Nashville, Tenn. Behind then are Red Wings Patrick Eaves (17) and Darren Helm (43). (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
By Helene St. James
Detroit Free Press
The Red Wings went through a quick practice Sunday as they prepare to head into the last 21 games of the season with an unusual mission: Make the playoffs.
The Wings, whose game at Colorado is the only one scheduled for Monday night by the NHL after its two-week Olympic break, are in 10th place in the Western Conference, one point below the eight-team cutoff. San Jose and Chicago have the first two spots just about locked up, and either Vancouver or Colorado will probably win the Northwest division. Realistically, the Wings probably won't finish higher than seventh — but even that is going to be a battle because positioning is extremely tight.
"It's going to be interesting," Johan Franzen said. "We've been at the top of the standings all my years here. We're going to have to play with a lot more desperation. But it's going to be exciting because all the games are going to mean something. We've got to go for it."
The Wings could get help in the form of a depth forward if the right trade presents itself for general manager Ken Holland. The Wings have eight defensemen (making Brett Lebda or Derek Meech expendable) but are short up front after placing Kirk Maltby on injured reserve. Holland will work the phones through Wednesday's trade deadline, but he said any trade made will only be a minor one.
The onus, in other words, is on the guys already in uniform — but they do at least have a favorable schedule to get their mission accomplished.
"We have one long road trip coming up, but besides that, we have a lot of home games," captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "It's a pretty good schedule we have from here on in. We just have to continue to dig in and work hard."
The Wings should, for the first time since the third game of the season, be entirely healthy, though Dan Cleary left practice early after taking a puck to his right foot. Cleary said he didn't think it was serious. Trainer Piet Van Zant expects Cleary to play Monday night. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were not at practice because both had been given permission by Holland to meet the team in Denver on Sunday, as were the Olympians still active over the weekend. And Monday night marks the return of Andreas Lilja after spending a year recovering from a concussion.
"Now everyone looks like they are back healthy," Niklas Kronwall said. "So now there is not much more speaking to do — we just have to get out there and get winning."
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