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 Arena on April 4, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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


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)

Braun out with upper-body injury; Zubrus to make Sharks debut

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The San Jose Sharks will be missing a top-4 defenseman tonight when they host the defending champs from Chicago.

Justin Braun has an upper-body injury. His status is considered day-to-day.

“Brauny has been one of our unsung heroes here through the first quarter of the season,” coach Peter DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “He’s played some outstanding hockey. So, we’re going to miss him, but it’s a great opportunity for Mueller and Tennyson and one of these guys to establish themselves. It’s a great opportunity for us to reward Dillon for how well he’s played.”

Against the Blackhawks, Brenden Dillon will take Braun’s spot on the top pairing alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic; Paul Martin and Brent Burns will stay together on the second pairing; and 20-year-old Mirco Mueller will skate with Matt Tennyson.

Mueller has played just four games for the Sharks this season. In his last game, Thursday in Philadelphia, he received only 9:13 of ice time.

Also tonight, new Shark forward Dainius Zubrus is expected to debut on the fourth line.

Related: Sharks sign Zubrus, because DeBoer

Johansen calls trade rumblings ‘weird,’ says relationship with Torts is ‘great’

Ryan Johansen
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One day after reports surfaced of Ryan Johansen being at the center of trade talks, all parties involved from Columbus did what they’re supposed to do — downplay the situation.

You can read the denials in full over at the Dispatch, but here’s the gist:

— Johansen said the rumors were “weird” and that he’s “never seen it before.” He also said there were no issues between him and head coach John Tortorella, calling the relationship “great.”

— GM Jarmo Kekalainen wouldn’t address the report, nor would Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt.

— Johansen added he hasn’t spoken to any of Columbus’ management about the trade rumblings.

So there’s that. What’s next?

At this stage of the game, it’s hard not to think about another Overhardt client, Kyle Turris.

Turris, you’ll recall, spent four (mostly) stormy years with the Coyotes before his trade out to Ottawa was orchestrated. Turris eventually told GM Don Maloney “this is not going to work out” with the club, and he was gone.

So, consider the similarities now:

— Turris was 22 at the time of the trade, with four years and 137 games under his belt.

— Johansen is 23, with five years and 291 games.

— Both had contentious contract holdouts with their respective clubs.

— Both are Overhardt guys.

— The Turris trade happened after the Coyotes went from Wayne Gretzky to Dave Tippett as head coach.

— Johansen is already on his third head coach (Scott Arniel, Todd Richards, Tortorella).

For now, these are all coincidences (or a forced narrative, depending what you think of the author).

And, of course, the one big — big — difference between the two is that, at the time of his trade, Turris wasn’t as good or established a player as Johansen currently is. Therefore, logic suggests any Johansen trade would be a lot more blockbuster-y and, therefore, probably more complex.

And as we know, complex deals aren’t easy to pull off.

Flyers’ Gagner to miss another week after Malone hit

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The nasty blow Sam Gagner took in Monday’s game against Carolina will keep him on the shelf for a little bit.

On Wednesday, Flyers GM Ron Hextall said the club expected Gagner to be out around a week with injuries suffered on the hit, delivered by ‘Canes forward Brad Malone (per the Inquirer).

Gagner suffered a fairly significant facial laceration, which forced him from the game entirely. He didn’t practice on Tuesday and, in a corresponding move, the Flyers called up Colin McDonald from the AHL to fill Gagner’s spot on the roster.

This is the second facial injury Gagner’s suffered in recent years. He’d previously had his jaw broken by an errant Zack Kassian high stick, while he was with the Oilers and Kassian the Canucks.

Prior to getting hurt, Gagner had two goals and five points in 18 games, averaging just under 12 minutes per night.

‘It’s absolutely not true’ — Lemieux denies report of ‘big falling out’ with Crosby

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 5:  Sidney Crosby #87 and Mario Lemieux #66 of the Pittsburgh Penguins share a few words during a break in action against the New Jersey Devils in their NHL opening night game at the Continental Airlines Arena on October 5, 2005 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The Devils won 5-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Well, that didn’t take long.

Just hours after Matthew Barnaby went on the radio and said he’d heard that Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux had had a “big falling out,” Lemieux came out and denied it.

“It’s absolutely not true,” said Lemieux, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s silly.”

Today marked the second time in less than two weeks that the Penguins have been forced to do some damage control.

Last week, the Penguins insisted that they weren’t actually “mad at each other,” as Evgeni Malkin had put it after a bad loss to New Jersey.

“He did not mean we are mad at each other,” said Crosby. “He meant we are frustrated.”