The Detroit Red Wings find themselves in an unfamiliar situation as their bid to extend a 21-year playoff streak comes down to the regular-season finale.
It's a position the eliminated Dallas Stars definitely envy, though.
Detroit looks to clinch yet another Western Conference postseason berth by earning a point on the road Saturday night against a Dallas team hoping to play spoiler.
The Red Wings (23-16-8) were expected to have a difficult journey to the playoffs after seven-time Norris Trophy winner and longtime captain Nicklas Lidstrom, along with forward Tomas Holmstrom, retired during the offseason.
Veterans Pavel Datsyuk, new captain Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen have led Detroit as its top three scorers, but the club is clinging to one of the final playoff spots as the lockout-shortened season comes to a close.
The Red Wings helped their chances of extending the playoff streak by beating Nashville 5-2 on Thursday for their third straight win, as Datsyuk and Franzen scored and Zetterberg added two assists.
They will guarantee a postseason spot by earning at least one point versus Dallas.
``We just have to make sure we get in the playoffs and hope we keep playing well. That's the plan,' said center Valtteri Filppula, who scored his 100th goal Thursday. ``Now we'll just wait and see what happens.'
Zetterberg has seven assists during the winning streak and Datsyuk has two goals and three assists over the last two. If Detroit does qualify for the postseason, it will finish with its worst seed since the current playoff format was instituted in 1993-94.
"It's nice to get the two points, now just have to move on to the last game," Zetterberg said.
All Dallas has to play for is a chance to keep the Red Wings out of the playoffs, as it will miss the postseason for a fifth straight season.
The Stars (22-21-4) put up a fight down the stretch despite the team having traded Brenden Morrow, Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy prior to the deadline, but they've lost four straight to eliminate them from contention.
``It hasn't really sunk in yet, I don't think,' said Kari Lehtonen, who made 32 saves in a 3-1 defeat to Columbus on Thursday. ``It feels bad right now and I'm sure it feels even worse tomorrow.'
Defenseman Stephane Robidas was with the Stars for their last playoff appearance in 2008, when they lost in six games to Detroit in the conference finals.
"It's another tough one for me to swallow," Robidas said. "It's been a long time since I've had the chance to get in the playoffs. The good news, I guess you've got to look at the positives, a lot of guys fought until the end. A lot of people thought we were done after the deadline and we kind of made it until this game, we still had a chance to make it."
Lehtonen, who has a 3.00 goals-against average during Dallas' skid, made 39 saves in a 2-1 win over Detroit on Jan. 22 that ended a four-game skid in the series. Filppula scored twice and Zetterberg added a goal and an assist in the Red Wings' 4-1 victory Jan. 29.
Jimmy Howard has gone 4-1-1 with a 1.16 GAA in his last six starts.
The Associated Press News Service
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