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NHL on NBCSN: Red Wings struggle to keep postseason streak alive, face Coyotes

Apr 22, 2013, 8:09 AM EDT

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 04: Goaltender Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save on the shot as Martin Hanzal #11 and Shane Doan #19 of the Phoenix Coyotes attempt a deflection during the first period of the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on April 4, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

NBCSN’s ongoing coverage of the 2013 campaign will continue tonight when the Detroit Red Wings host the Phoenix Coyotes at Joe Louis Arena at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The last time the Red Wings missed the playoffs, George H. W. Bush was the President of the United States, there were 21 teams in the NHL, and Mark Messier, Patrick Roy, Wayne Gretzky, and Brett Hull were 20-somethings dominating the league.

That’s the streak at stake as we enter the final week of the regular season. The Red Wings have just four games left starting with tonight’s contest against Phoenix.

None of the Red Wings want to be responsible for letting one of the longest postseason appearance streaks in the history of the NHL come to an end.

“If you’re Henrik Zetterberg, and it’s your first year as captain, you don’t want it on your watch,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “If you’re Mike Babcock, in your eighth year of coaching, you don’t want it on your watch.”

Despite that sentiment, Detroit has won just one of its last six games, although three of those losses were determined by shootouts. The Red Wings’ recent slump has corresponded with the Columbus Blue Jackets’ surge.

Columbus earned a 4-3 victory over San Jose on Sunday, so the eighth place Blue Jackets now have a three-point lead over Detroit, but have played in two extra games. In other words, the Red Wings’ fate is still in their own hands, but the pressure is certainly on.

As for the Coyotes, their chances of making the playoffs are slim, but still alive. They are two points behind the Red Wings, so a win tonight would certainly give the Coyotes’ improbable run more life.

One player to watch on the Coyotes’ side is 31-year-old forward Radim Vrbata. He heated up towards the end of the 2011-12 campaign with five goals in the Coyotes’ final five regular season contests. He might be setting himself up for an encore after finding the back of the net in Phoenix’s last two games.

“He’s shown in the past that when he does get hot, he can score in bunches,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett told the Arizona Republic.

We’ll see if the Red Wings can turn the weight of their past success into motivation or if the Coyotes can keep their playoff hopes alive.

Probable goaltenders: DET – Jimmy Howard (17-13-7, 2.28 GAA, .919 SV%)| PHX – Mike Smith (14-11-4, 2.57 GAA, .911 SV%)

Top scorers: DET – Pavel Datsyuk (13-28-41, 43 GP) | PHX – Mikkel Boedker (7-18-25, 44 GP)

Notable Injuries:
Detroit – Forwards: Drew Miller (hand), Mikael Samuelsson (upper body), Todd Bertuzzi (leg), Darren Helm (back)
Phoenix – Forwards: Lauri Korpikoski (upper body) Defensemen: Derek Morris (lower body)

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