Abel to Yzerman
by George Malik on 04/03/11 at 06:24 PM ET
The Detroit Red Wings face off against an undermanned Minnesota Wild team this afternoon (5 PM EDT, FSD+/FS North/WXYT) with Pavel Datsyuk (but not Mike Modano or Niklas Kronwall) in the lineup against a team that should, to put it politely, provide the Wings with the “easiest” challenge in terms of their four remaining games.
The Wings will tangle with a Carolina Hurricanes team that’s on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture looking in as of this afternoon, and then the Wings have back-to-backs against a defending champion Chicago Blackhawks team that could very well be a first-round opponent depending on how things shake down over the course of this week, so this game is, at least in theory, the last “gimme” of the season.
As NHL.com’s David Kalan notes, the Wings could sew up the Central Division if they win today…
MINNESOTA (37-33-8, 82 points) at DETROIT (45-23-10, 100 points)
Where they stand: The Wild are 11th in the Western Conference; the Red Wings are third in the West.
What’s at stake: Minnesota’s postseason hopes are done, but there are a whole host of possibilities for Detroit Sunday. Beyond hopping over the Sharks for the West’s second seed with a win, a win in regulation or overtime would also give the Red Wings the Central Division title. The Wings also stand to take the crown if they win Sunday in a shootout and the Blackhawks either lose to Tampa Bay or defeat the Bolts in a shootout. If Detroit gets one point against Minnesota and the Blackhawks lose to Tampa Bay, the Wings will still take the Central.
How’s it going: The Wild lost to Tampa Bay Saturday afternoon, ending a brief two-game winning streak. Things are still tough in Minnesota, though. The Wild have won just two of their last 11 games. The Wings defeated Nashville in overtime Saturday afternoon, but Detroit has still struggled lately, winning just two of seven, including a shocking 10-3 loss to the Blues Wednesday at the Joe.
Upcoming: Minnesota travels to Vancouver and Edmonton later this week before finishing their campaign against the Stars Sunday evening. The Wings visit Carolina Wednesday night before ending the regular season with a home-and-home against rival Chicago.
Between MinnesotaWild.com’s Greg Andresen’s game-day preview and the comments made by Wild coach Todd Richards to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo, one gets the feeling that the Wild have a tough task ahead of them in hanging tough with the Wings:
When I noted that Pavel Datsyuk looks to be returning today against the Wild, coach Todd Richards said sarcastically, “Datsyuk’s playing? Beautiful. Makes it even better.”
The Wild’s up against it tonight with veteran defensemen Marek Zidlicky and Nick Schultz hurt and veteran forwards John Madden and Martin Havlat back in Minnesota as well. The Red Wings look to be completely healthy, with Mike Modano apparently being taken out for Datsyuk.
Rookie center Carson McMillan will make his NHL debut on a line with Eric Nystrom and Brad Staubitz and Colton Gillies will play the left side of Matt Cullen and Chuck Kobasew. Mikko Koivu lines stays intact, as well as the Pierre-Marc Bouchard-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck line. Rookies Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon will be a tandem again and rookies Justin Falk and Maxim Noreau will be a tandem.
Richards will be looking for a much, much better game from veteran Brent Burns, who struggled yesterday against Tampa Bay, because today will be a much faster pace for the rookies to handle.
“It’ll be a good test for a lot of guys,” Richards said. “You get a feel of, ‘Can guys play at this level in a game like this.’ It’s no disrespect to Tampa. They’ve figured out a way to win and a way to play that allows them to be successful. But we’re going to go against a Detroit team that is free-wheeling and very skilled. They play fast. The reason why they’re able to play fast is because they can handle the puck. It’s a challenge. There’s motivation already coming in to play against Detroit in Detroit. Nobody wants to be embarrassed. This team is capable of embarrassing you if you’re not ready. And they were just embarrassed at home by St. Louis (10-3). I’m sure we’re going to get close to their best effort tonight.”
Jose Theodore, who won here in November, gets the start.
Also of Wings-related reading note as you prepare for this one:
• MLive’s Rob Otto weighed in on the significance of Saturday night’s win vs. Nashville;
• Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan get some pats on the back from Hockey’s Future’s college hockey prospects notebook;
• The playoff moment of the day on the Wings’ Twenty Straight website involves the 1997 Stanley Cup win;
• And Mike Milbury of all people gave Nicklas Lidstrom praise on today’s NBC broadcast, as noted by Pro Hockey Talk’s Joe Yerdon:
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