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Wings' regular season closing at frantic pace

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Sunrise, Fla. — The Red Wings will have plenty of hockey to play the rest of this season.

Thursday's game against the Panthers began a stretch of 14 games in 24 days for the Red Wings to close the regular season.

Six of those games are on the road, and there are three sets of back-to-backs.

"I don't think much about it," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said of the hectic pace. "We might as well be playing hockey. We've tried to give our guys time to freshen up the best we possibly can. "

Until last weekend's impressive victory over the Penguins, the Red Wings had lost four of five and weren't playing smart or inspired hockey.

They can't afford many off nights in these final few weeks.

"We want to be back playing the way we did in Pittsburgh," captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "The start is one of the main focuses, and all the details in the game. We got away from it for a stretch and that's why we lost some games.

"We got back to playing the way we wanted to and with structure. We didn't cheat. We did the little things right and obviously scoring that many goals, we didn't expect that, but it was a nice plus."

Babcock has been liberal about giving the team days off recently, and hopes the rest will be beneficial.

"We take the days off we need," Babcock said. "Our whole focus is like at the start (of the season), to get better every day and get into the playoffs."

3-on-3 'fun'

The NHL is likely going to some form of a three-on-three format next season for overtime — the length of overtime is the only question — and Red Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek believes it's an exciting idea.

"It was crazy for the goalies, there are lots of chances, two-on-ones and breakaways," said Mrazek, who has been involved in three-on-three overtimes with Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League. "One mistake leads to a breakaway, so it's going to be a lot of fun.

"It's fun for fans and for players. There are a lot of open spaces on the ice."

Cole 'all right'

Forward Erik Cole has made a steady contribution since arriving at the trade deadline. He entered Thursday's game with four points (one goal) in seven games.

"He's done all right," Babcock said. "We need him to be big and physical, be heavy and on the puck and use his speed to create chances."

Ice chips

Forward Darren Helm (oblique strain) returned to the Red Wings lineup Thursday after missing eight games.

"He gives us energy," Babcock said. "We've missed Darren."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

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Red Wings at Lightning

Faceoff: 7:30 tonight, Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The Lightning is 2-0 against the Red Wings. ... The Lightning is on a 6-3-1 run. ... C Steven Stamkos is second in the NHL with 39 goals, and C Tyler Johnson is ninth in scoring (65 points).