DETROIT - The Maple Leafs will catch a break - two, actually - when they face off against the Detroit Red Wings at the Joe Louis Arena on Saturday night.
While forward Todd Bertuzzi (back) and defenceman Jonathan Ericsson (flu) have been given the green light to return to the Detroit lineup, the Red Wings will be without two of their key offensive cogs in Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen when they meet the Leafs in front of a national coast-to-coast audience on Hockey Night in Canada.
The Wings are being careful with Franzen, who leads the team in goals with 27. While Franzen did take part in the morning skate at The Joe, coach Mike Babcock has opted to keep his hulking forward in civvies in order to give his nagging groin injury more time to heal.
Datsyuk, meanwhile, continues to be sidelined with what the team is calling a “lower body injury.” He is expected to return in time for the playoffs in 2-1/2 weeks.
The absence of Franzen and Datsyuk should be good news for Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer, who still will have to be at the top of his game in order to hold off the high-flying Wings.
Wins by the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night have left the Maple Leafs in an even more precarious position in their quest for a post-season berth heading into the final two weeks of the season. The Sabres hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the eastern conference with 83 points, followed by the Canes with 80 and the Leafs, who have 78.
Entering the day five points behind Buffalo, the Leafs also must deal with the fact that the Sabres hold a game in hand over them. Buffalo comes to the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday in what stands to be a critical contest.
Then again, aren’t they all at this point?
“We know it’s a huge game for them,” Wings forward Kris Draper said. “The building is going to be electric. We don’t see them that much like we did when I first came into the league, so there always is a special buzz in the rink when the Leafs are in town.”
The Leafs are on a three-game winning streak, having posted consecutive victories over the Boston Bruins, Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche.