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The Chicago Blackhawks put together a valiant late-season run in an effort to sneak into the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoffs, but it was too little, too late.
The top-seeded Detroit Red Wings probably couldn't be happier they came up short.
The Blackhawks will look to win five straight for the first time in more than six years on Sunday, while wrapping up their most successful series against the rival Red Wings in more than 20 years.
Chicago (40-33-8) hasn't made the playoffs since the 2001-02 season, which was also the last time it won as many as five consecutive games. The Blackhawks, who finished in last place in the Central Division last season with 71 points, have already made a 17-point improvement from 2006-07.
But even though Chicago is 6-1-1 in its last eight games, Nashville's win over St. Louis on Thursday night ended the playoff hopes for coach Denis Savard's team.
The Blackhawks took out their frustration on the Predators on Friday in their home finale, scoring three first-period goals en route to a 3-1 win behind goals from star rookies Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
"The impact Kane made to our season - he and Toews - to get us where we're at now, was great," Savard said.
Toews leads all rookies with 24 goals and Kane is the league's rookie leader with 71 points.
"That's special," Kane said after scoring a goal and adding two assists in a 6-2 win over Detroit on Wednesday. "(The points lead) would be big for the organization and myself, especially coming in here and not having many expectations."
Seven of Kane's points have come in the Blackhawks' seven games with the Red Wings (53-21-7).
Detroit has the league's best record, but hasn't played like the NHL's premier team against Chicago. The Blackhawks have won five of the seven meetings this season, and a win Sunday would make them 6-2-0 against the Red Wings for the first time since 1985-86.
Chicago is the only West team with which Detroit hasn't at least split its season series.
The Red Wings wrapped up the Presidents' Trophy as the regular-season points leader on Thursday by beating Columbus 3-2. They trailed 2-1 until Johan Franzen's goal tied it with 3:27 left, then Henrik Zetterberg scored the winner with just 11 seconds remaining.
"It was nice to get that out of the way and get home-ice advantage all the way in the playoffs," said Zetterberg, who leads Detroit with 43 goals. "We had a great regular season, have one game to finish it off and then ready to go for the playoffs."
As good as Zetterberg's been recently - he has seven goals and five assists in his last eight games - Franzen has been even better. The third-year center has 27 goals this season, but 15 have come in his last 15 games.
In Detroit's 10 victories in March, Franzen had six game-winners.
Franzen certainly hasn't been at his best against Chicago. He only has one goal against the Blackhawks, while Zetterberg has four goals and five assists.
Though the Red Wings will lean on goaltender Dominik Hasek in the playoffs, he hasn't had much luck against Chicago. He's 0-3-1 with a 4.08 goals-against average and was pulled after allowing three goals on six shots Wednesday.
Chris Osgood is 2-1-0 with a 2.08 GAA against the Blackhawks.
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