By Ashley Dunkak
JOE LOUIS ARENA (CBS DETROIT) - It is getting close to crunch time again for the Detroit Red Wings.
The Wings (23-19-11) desperately need to display that same grit and ability to finish down the stretch of the season, or they risk missing the playoffs after 22 straight appearances.
If the season ended now, the Wings would not go to the postseason. Losing starters, including stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, to injuries has certainly factored into Detroit's struggles, but when it comes to the bottom line of wins and losses, being shorthanded - 235 man games lost - does not count for much.
Detroit has been weak on the power play in January, converting on just 4 of 50 opportunities. Overall this season the Wings have a 16.2 power play percentage, 22nd in the NHL. The return of Zetterberg, who leads the team with 16 goals and 44 points, should help. The Swede will be back in action Friday against Washington after missing 13 games this season for back problems.
"Obviously all good players, it's important to have them back," Wings head coach Mike Babcock said after Detroit's morning skate Friday. "You need your big guys. They keep you calm. They help you stay determined. Zetterberg's a real team leader for us, so it's important to have him. The rest of us have got to play real well, obviously, but he's an important piece."
The Red Wings allowed five goals by each of their last two opponents, falling 5-4 in a shootout at home against Florida and 5-0 on the road against Philadelphia.
"Hopefully we can play a little better structure than we did there," Zetterberg said. "I think we created some chances, but obviously we couldn't really score. I think the special teams have to be better, especially tonight. You want to stay out of the box; they've got a really good power play on the other side tonight, and our power play's got to get some goals when we get the chance."
Five games remain before the Olympic break, and Detroit knows it needs to grab every chance it gets to stay in the playoff hunt. Washington, which will also miss the postseason without a turnaround, is in a similar boat.
"Both teams, to be honest, us and them, just finished giving up five," Babcock said. "You go through the pre-scout on a team that gave up five, you're not very impressive. Both of us need to bounce back, and as you can look at the standings, it's not too hard to figure out how important these games are.
"We play them home and home, and this is a big series for us and a big series for them," Babcock continued. "Whether they played last night or didn't play last night, it's a huge series for us. We've got to be ready to go."
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