Nashville Predators right wing Joel Ward (29) defends Detroit Red Wings center Darren Helm (43) in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
DETROIT - Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz is already in a post-season state of mind.
The Predators still have 27 regular-season games remaining, but that didn't change Trotz's view of things after Nashville beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 on Wednesday night.
"The playoffs are now," Trotz said, standing in a hallway while Detroit coach Mike Babcock and Ken Holland wished him well and walked past. "We're five points behind Detroit in the division, but we're also five points from being out of the playoff picture."
Martin Erat scored the first of Nashville's four goals to chase Jimmy Howard, and Pekka Rinne made 34 saves to help the Predators beat the Central Division-leading Red Wings for the second time in five days.
"Two big games against them," Predators forward Patric Hornqvist said. "We've got to catch those guys."
David Legwand gave Nashville a two-goal lead in the first period. Colin Wilson scored early in the second and Sergei Kostitsyn made it 4-0 midway through the period to end Howard's night and make Babcock angry.
"It's absolutely unacceptable to compete like we did," Babcock said. "We're awful."
Detroit has lost three of four, scoring four goals during the stretch.
"The coach ain't getting the job done and neither are 22 players," Babcock said.
Howard got pulled after giving up four goals on 16 shots, but Nicklas Lidstrom was quick to defend him.
"Howie's making the first save and we're not there to help out on the rebounds," Lidstrom said. "That's been hurting us. That's been costing us games."
The Red Wings avoided getting shut out for the third time in four games late in the second when Ruslan Salei scored his first goal this season in his 53rd game with Detroit.
Nashville had lost five of six with the lone win coming against Detroit 3-0 on Saturday night.
The Predators did have a setback in their victory in a quiet Joe Louis Arena, losing centre Marcel Goc in the first period to an undisclosed upper body injury. He assisted on Nashville's first goal, giving him 24 points in 49 games this season.
"He should be OK for Saturday," said Trotz, referring to Nashville's next game against Colorado.
Pavel Datsyuk's return on Monday in a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers helped the Red Wings—a goal, assist and three takeaways—but Tomas Holmstrom didn't make quite the same impact after he missed nine games with a hand injury.
Holmstrom stood in front of the crease in his traditional position, but that didn't produce any redirected shots in the net or obstruct Rinne's view.
Howard had a clear view of Erat's goal, but couldn't get his glove on the wrist shot from the left circle a few minutes into the game.
The Predators scored their next three goals on rebounds, the final one on the power play.
Legwand knocked Dan Cleary off the puck in the right circle and scored from almost the same spot when Ryan Suter's shot caromed off Howard toward him.
Detroit had a chance to pull within a goal late in the first period and was denied by Rinne, who reached low to snatch Lidstrom's slap shot.
"That was a huge save," Trotz said. "That goal would've put them back in the game, then we did a good job of staying on top of them in the second period."
Wilson scored about a minute into the second period and Kostitsyn had a goal 10:26 into the second, leading to Howard's departure.
"The Red Wings were a little off," Trotz said. "Maybe that was because of them, and us."
Notes: Detroit C Valtteri Filppula missed the game with an injured left knee and is expected to be out at least a week. ... The Predators are 19-0-2 when leading after two periods. ... Joey MacDonald made 14 saves over the last 1 1/2 periods in relief of Howard. ... Nashville scored on its second shot in the first and second periods. ... Wilson has 14 points in his last 20 games, matching his scoring total from his first 35 games this season.