DETROIT -- That light at the end of the tunnel that the Red Wings have been waiting for might appear tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Captain Nick Lidstrom, who has missed a career-high 11 straight games because of a deep bone bruise in his right ankle, said after the morning skate that he would be a game-time decision.
"They want me to come down and test it out tonight in warmups and then we'll go from there," Lidstrom said. "It's going to be staying with me for a while, it's just a matter of not getting worse. I think that's what they're afraid of, that it's going to get worse, so that's why they want me to come down here again and take warmups."
Lidstrom said flying back from California last week and taking the weekend off helped.
"It's a big difference from when I was out in California and went home from the trip," Lidstrom said. "It feels a lot better than about a week ago."
If he does play, Lidstrom will have some protection on his skate.
"I have a thing attached to the skate now, on the outside," he said. "So I think that'll help somewhat. It's hard to protect it 100 percent but that's what all guys are facing."
Lidstrom can't wait to get back in a game.
"Oh, I wanted to play four weeks ago. I didn't want to miss any games," Lidstrom said. "I thought it was going to be shorter. I wanted to play as soon as possible but it just hasn't been able to do that."
Coach Mike Babcock said if Lidstrom was able to play, Brendan Smith would sit.
Jakub Kindl, who has been out since March 4 with an upper-body injury, will play Saturday for sure.
"I'm feeling really good the last few days," Kindl said. "Yesterday we had a pretty hard practice so there were some times when I had to be physical to try it out so at least I had a good practice the way I play the games. I tried it out and I wasn't sore at all so I feel great."
Goaltender Jimmy Howard took shots in the morning skate for the first time since the Washington Capitals game.
"It's been getting better every single day," Howard said. "Today progressed to having shots and felt pretty good out there."
Howard said the most frustrating aspect of this injury was that he thought he had gotten rid of it when he came back for the first time in Los Angeles.
"I don't think any of us really thought it was going to happen the way it did," Howard said. "You go out on the West coast trip and practicing and you're feeling good and nothing's bothering you and then all of a sudden, third period of Washington, it's back. So it was kind of mind-boggling. We're just being cautious and trying to get rid of it here, with it being so close to playoffs."
Howard said he's been doing a lot of work in the weight room to strengthen his groins.
"Just being out there and taking shots in practice feels good again," Howard said. "I'm hoping it's not going to take that much longer."
Babcock didn't have a timetable for Howard's return but with eight games to go, it has to be soon.
"You know, when he hurt his groin he missed some time and now he's hurt it again, I imagine we're extra cautious with him," Babcock said. "And yet Howie's got to get playing and get playing lots of games.
"Number one you have to get in the playoffs and No.2 you've got to be ready to play at a top level. You can't win without your goalie being good, so it's important Howie gets back and gets going."
Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson is also getting close. And Johan Franzen may not be far behind. Both of them stayed out on the ice after the morning skate to get in extra work.
Ericsson has been out since Feb. 25 with a broken left wrist.
"It's been better every day," Ericsson said. "I notice the difference every day. It feels good to me. It's in progress and getting closer every day."
Although he is not pain-free, Ericsson said he's able to shoot the puck.
"The shot's getting better," Ericsson said. I don't really have a problem shooting. It's not an issue."
Before Ericsson is cleared to play, he said he has to demonstrate to the training staff that he has improved in a few areas.
"My range is pretty good but I'm pretty weak at some spots and I'm not pain-free or anything like that so we don't want to make anything worse," he said.
Franzen has missed the last three games because of back spasms and pushed himself Saturday.
"No, back feels pretty good, but I feel awful out there," Franzen said. "It's been awhile since I've (done) anything, so I've just got to get the lungs back."
Franzen said that he doesn't have an exact game he expects to be back but is looking to sometime next week.
"I'm going to get back before the playoffs start, that's for sure," Franzen said. "Need to get some games in and gets the legs back and get the lungs back. I'm definitely going to get some full practices in first before I can play a game."
Despite the six-game losing streak and the long list of injured players, there does seem to be a more encouraging feel around the Wings these days.
"It's great to see all the guys getting back out there," Howard said. "We need to get healthy and hopefully we can leave this injury big behind us. It's been a rough month and half, two months for us in that aspect. At the same point we've got to find a way to win games."