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Wings gird for 'playoff games' this week

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Kyle Okposo scores against Petr Mrazek on Sunday during the Wings' loss to the Islanders.

Detroit – It's a big week for the Red Wings.

They are clutching to a playoff spot and and play two teams right on their heels in the Atlantic Division -- Ottawa on Tuesday and Boston on Thursday -- at Joe Louis Arena.

The Bruins are three points from the Red Wings, and Ottawa remains six points away having lost two games (one in overtime) over the weekend.

For the last two seasons the Red Wings have gone down to the final days before securing a playoff spot. If they make it this year, they'll be in the postseason for the 24th consecutive year.

"It's playoff games," said captain Henrik Zetterberg of these next two games. "We did that last year and two years ago. We had those (types) of games all the way to the postseason. It's nothing different this year."

The Red Wings had an opportunity to cement their position this past week but simply didn't do it. Largely because of poor goaltending from Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek, the Red Wings only earned three of eight points (1-2-1 in four games) and made their own playoff position a bit more uncertain.

Howard and Mrazek haven't been able to put together consistently elite goaltending during the Red Wings' past 13 games, during which time they're 4-8-1.

"They're huge," Howard said of the games against the Senators and Bruins. "It gives us a chance to jump up and be a little more comfortable in the standings. We just want to feel good about ourselves going into the playoffs. These next two games will tell a lot about us."

Mystifying Mrazek

Babcock said he would determine a starting goaltender for the Ottawa game during an off day Monday, but all signs indicate Howard will start.

Howard relieved an ineffective Mrazek during Sunday's 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders and stopped 15 of 16 shots after his own struggles earlier in the week.

One day after shutting out Tampa Bay, one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the NHL, Mrazek allowed four goals on 11 shots and was pulled for the fourth time in his last 12 starts.

"You try to play (well) every night and play hard and play your best," Mrazek said. "It's hockey, and sometimes it goes a good way or bad way. I just have to stay positive and be ready for the next game."

Said coach Mike Babcock: "The blame game never helped anyone, ever. We're better off if we just keep grinding and not worrying about that and stay the course. We know we have good structure and a good team, and let's just stay the course and look after things."

Ice chips

The status of forwards Erik Cole and Riley Sheahan, both out with upper body injuries, will be determined Tuesday. With no practice Monday, it's doubtful either will be ready to play against the Senators.

... The fluky goals the Red Wings have allowed over the last week can be discouraging for a team, but Zetterberg feels those types of goals even out.

"It evens out during the course of a season," Zetterberg said. "If you have them now, you won't have them (against you) later. We just have to get over it and not think about it."

Senators at Red Wings

Faceoff: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

TV / radio: Fox Sports Detroit / 97.1-FM, 1270-AM

Outlook: The Red Wings are 2-1 against the Senators this season. ... The Senators have pulled within six points of the Red Wings in the playoff chase, although they lost their last two games (one in overtime). ... G Andrew Hammond (14-1-1, 1.92 GAA, .938 save percentage) has sparked the Senators' turnaround.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

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