DETROIT -- Although the Red Wings are getting players back from injury, there is no margin for error.
With six games left for both the Wings and the Nashville Predators and the Predators coming to town Friday, there is just one point separating the teams. Detroit, currently fourth in the Western Conference, has 97 and Nashville has 96.
Coach Mike Babcock said if goaltender Jimmy Howard (groin) and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson do not play Wednesday in Columbus, he won't play them Friday at home against Nashville.
"Kind of the way I look at it, if Howie and him can't go (Wednesday), they're not going against Nashville because to me you got to have played hockey, so I'm going with guys who have played," Babcock said. "I'll know more (Wednesday)."
Johan Franzen, on the other hand, is set to return to the lineup after missing five games with back spasms.
"Very happy," Franzen said. "It feels good to get some games, the last games of the season. Hopefully coming into the playoffs fresh and able to skate well."
Babcock feels the remaining six games are just enough time for Franzen to get back in the swing of things.
"It's good to have him back. Obviously he's a real good player for us," Babcock said. "I think it's real important, as you've seen with Pavel (Datsyuk) and Nick (Lidstrom), when you miss time, it doesn't matter how good a player you are it doesn't come back right away and it takes you come time to get your game back, so it's important he gets in and gets playing."
Despite the return of Franzen, Babcock said Gustav Nyquist, who scored his first career goal Monday, will not return to Grand Rapids. Babcock has not decided who will sit Wednesday night.
Even if he is not ready to go Wednesday and doesn't play Friday, Ericsson thinks he can be ready for postseason play.
"I'm confident that I'll get a few games in (before playoffs)," Ericsson said. "Most of the things I'm doing out there I don't feel much."
The Wings are being careful with Howard because he came back from the groin injury, seemed to be fine and then quickly aggravated it.
"We've been a little more cautious with it, making sure the strength is really there," Howard said. "It's getting back to normal, continuing to strengthen it and feeling good back on the ice."
Howard will travel to Columbus and participate in the morning skate.
"Right now what I need the most is being out there and feeling the puck in practice," Howard said. "I had a good practice (Tuesday), looking forward to getting out there (Wednesday) morning."
Not yet happy Hudler
Although Jiri Hudler tied his career high Monday night with his 23rd goal of the season, he's not satisfied.
"I wouldn't say happy," Hudler said. "We've got six games and then a long run in the playoffs, ask me later."
Hudler has found a home on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula.
Each one of those players has topped the 20-goal mark.
"I think Huds has been excellent," Babcock said. "It took him a while to get going but he's been playing well. That's been a dominant, dominant line for us. He's been at the net for those guys, he's made plays for those guys. They've been great for us every night now for, I don't know, has it been three months?
"Fil's emerged as a real top-six forward, a real threat. He's a guy who can shoot the puck way more than he does but he's a guy who's really emerged as a player. That gives them two guys on that line who are elite players and Huds has been a great complement to that group."
Gearing up for the postseason
You can see that Babcock has his players focused on the real prize at this point -- gearing up for the playoffs.
He's pleased with what he's seen in the last two games, victories over Carolina and Columbus.
"We're much quicker again, we've moving the puck better on the back end," Babcock said. "We look like a hockey team. Not in the third period last night but prior to that. Until the game got out of and I thought our guys were really organized and really playing fast.
"That's what these last six games are about, we have to get all the details of our game at the highest possible level or else you go into the playoffs hoping instead of knowing."
Although there's a mathematical chance the Wings could pass the St. Louis Blues, who have 103 points with six games left, it's unlikely.
"It looks to me we're playing Nashville in the first round," Babcock said. "Two really good teams, not much to pick between us, so it's going to be a battle."
The players say they're not concerned with winning or not winning the Central Division.
"I don't think we're thinking about where we finish," Brad Stuart said. "We'd like to start at home, but we're more focused on feeling good about our game and the way we're playing and the things we're doing. If we do that that's going to be more important for us rather than what position we're in and who you're playing."
Niklas Kronwall agreed that all the Wings need to do is focus on themselves at this point.
"We have to focus on our own game, stick and pay attention to all the details," Kronwall said. "The details will change the game and a playoff series. Getting our game to where we want it to be from playing defense quick, be on the right side, getting through the neutral zone and just grinding on other team's defense."