Hawks begin critical home-and-home vs. Red Wings
Thursday, 04.07.2011 / 4:14 PM
NHL.comBLACKHAWKS (43-28-9) at RED WINGS (46-24-10)
TV: VERSUS (HD), RIS, CSN-CH (HD), FS-D (HD)
Chicago 5-4-1; Detroit 4-4-2
Detroit took the opener of the 2010-11 season series, but since then the Hawks have won three in a row, including two straight at the Joe. Chicago took the last meeting thanks to an overtime winner from former Red Wing Marian Hossa on March 28 in Motown.
Whether it's in the Western Conference Finals or October, it's always news when two of the NHL's oldest rivals face off. As Detroit and Chicago open a home-and-home to close the season, however, this could be one of the more noteworthy occasions. While the Red Wings already have the Central Division title sealed up, the reigning Stanley Cup champs need to keep winning to get a chance at defending their crown.
When a team is in dire straits it will often look to its captain, and Wednesday night Jonathan Toews delivered for the Hawks. After Chicago had rallied from a two-goal deficit and let a 3-2 lead slip away in the third period, Captain Serious put the team's postseason hopes on his shoulders and potted an impressive game-winner for two enormous points against St. Louis. In addition, the goal was the first point for Toews in four games.
While the win helps the Hawks breathe easier from the West's eighth spot, the anxiety is far from gone. Dallas still has a chance to overtake Chicago for the final berth, and holds the tiebreaker advantage should the teams finish with the same amount of points and non-shootout wins. If the Stars run the table, the Blackhawks will need at least three points out of their final two games of the season against Detroit, and even with the Wings ailing, that is a tall order for the Hawks, who still haven't won in regulation since March 23.
Possibly as a result of a beat-up roster, the Wings have slumped down the season's final stretch, winning just three of their last nine games. Because of the stumble, Detroit has dropped down to the third seed in the West, but a win Friday could hop the Wings over San Jose and into the No. 2 seed. Still, the Wings have managed to clinch the division title, and the only major advantage to getting the No. 2 seed, considering they have no idea who they would face in the first round yet, is home ice in a potential second-round clash with the Sharks.
Regardless, the biggest concern almost has to be getting healthy before making a run at what could be Hockeytown's fifth dance with Lord Stanley in the last 14 years. Several important players have missed time due to injury of late, including Pavel Datsyuk
and Jimmy Howard
. With Henrik Zetterberg
leaving the first period of Wednesday night's 3-0 loss to Carolina, there might be renewed focus on keeping the roster intact with a postseason berth already assured.
Defenseman Brent Seabrook may be feeling a need to contribute more offensively after inking his recent contract extension. If that's the case, he's certainly doing his part, tallying 3 points in the last four games. … As Detroit struggles offensively, Johan Franzen
, Tomas Holmstrom
and Todd Bertuzzi
are doing their best to mark up the score sheet. Each of the three has 3 points in the last four games.
Chicago got a needed offensive boost Wednesday night when Patrick Sharp returned after two weeks with a knee injury. The Hawks are still without Dave Bolland, who has missed nearly a month with a concussion, and may also be without Troy Brouwer, who is considered questionable with a right shoulder injury. … Detroit is still waiting for the return of backup goaltender Chris Osgood
, who has been gone since January with a groin injury, as well as defenseman Niklas Kronwall
, who is questionable with an upper-body injury, but the biggest absence is almost certainly Zetterberg, who will be out the final two games of the regular season with an upper-body injury.
Wednesday's win will no doubt give the Blackhawks some added confidence, but goalie Corey Crawford could use some of it himself. Crawford has allowed three goals or more in nine of his last 15 appearances, well above his season goals-against average of 2.27.
While the Wings certainly need to focus on getting healthy ahead of next week's Stanley Cup Playoffs, with neither team's final position set -- Chicago could finish anywhere from fourth to ninth -- there is a very real chance these two could be facing off again next Wednesday in the first round of the postseason. Rather than tempt fate against Chicago, it would certainly behoove Detroit to take care of its rival now. Doing so won't be easy even at home -- the Hawks have won their last four visits to the Joe.