One point away from winning their fourth Presidents' Trophy in six seasons, the Detroit Red Wings look to achieve that goal Thursday night when they host the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Red Wings (52-21-7) hold a three-point lead over San Jose in the race for the top seed in the Western Conference, and for the league's best overall record with two regular-season games remaining. Both clubs have already clinched their respective division titles, but the Presidents' Trophy and home-ice in the playoffs are still undecided. The winner of the NHL's regular season is also awarded $350,000.
The Presidents' Trophy was first awarded in 1986 and Detroit has won it five times - more than any other team. It is the last team to claim it and go on to win the Stanley Cup (2002). Last season, the Wings lost out on the trophy due to a tiebreaker with Buffalo after winning it in back-to-back seasons. They could also secure this year's crown if the Sharks lose at Los Angeles on Thursday.
Detroit failed in its bid to claim the regular-season championship Wednesday, losing 6-2 at Chicago - the team it closes the regular season against at home on Sunday.
"We've just got to bounce back and get the points we need. We've just got to tighten up and play smart," said Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood, who stopped 19 of 22 shots against the Blackhawks after Dominik Hasek was pulled for allowing three goals on six shots in the opening 7:52.
The Red Wings are 16-3-2 against the Blue Jackets (34-33-12) at Joe Louis Arena, including a 3-1 victory in the last matchup there on March 19 as Henrik Zetterberg notched a third-period hat trick. Three nights later, the All-Star left wing scored again in a 4-1 win at Columbus to help the Red Wings take a 4-2-1 lead in the season series.
Zetterberg, who scored one of Detroit's goals Wednesday, has been hot of late, scoring six goals and assisting on seven more in the last eight games. He leads the team with 42 goals and is second with 92 points - both career highs.
The Blue Jackets, 1-4-1 in their last six, have been eliminated from playoff contention for a seventh consecutive season despite setting a team record with 80 points. They are one win shy of matching a franchise record, set in 2005-06.
They are looking to finish fourth in the Central for a third consecutive season, but could still fall into last place if they can't secure a point from their final three games, while the last-place St. Louis Blues win their last three. The teams conclude the season with a home-and-home set - at Columbus on Saturday before meeting in St. Louis the following day.
The Jackets squandered a two-goal, second-period lead and lost 5-4 in a shootout at Chicago on Sunday.
Rick Nash leads Columbus with 38 goals and is three shy of his career high set in 2003-04. He hasn't found the net in four games since scoring against Detroit on March 22. The All-Star left wing has 10 goals in 15 games at Joe Louis Arena.