The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/10/11 at 07:48 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings face off against the Chicago Blackhawks at 11:30 AM local time (12:30 PM EDT, NBC/TSN/WXYT) knowing that no matter what happens today, they’re either going to face the Phoenix Coyotes or Nashville Predators in the first round of the playoffs. Given Detroit’s 7-7-and-4 record of late and the incredible stakes of a game whose result (and its interaction with the Dallas Stars-Minnesota Wild game which begins at 6 PM) may very well determine whether the Chicago Blackhawks spend this week defending their Stanley Cup championship or packing up their equipment and trading hockey sticks for golf clubs, you could argue that there’s no way in hell that a Red Wings team that dropped a 4-2 decision to the Hawks on Friday could find a way to match Chicago’s urgency or desperation today.
That may be, but the Red Wings definitely believe that the way in which they play during their last dress rehearsal before the “win or golf” games begin on Wednesday or Thursday (according to the Detroit Free Press, the NHL Network will announce playoff schedules at 10 PM EDT) matters and matters quite a bit, if only to reassure themselves and their fans that a team which now occupies the “Dark Horse’s Cup candidate’s” spot in the eyes of the hockey world isn’t a team that’s too mentally and physically worn down to reach May.
Because the deciphering the Western Conference standings practically requires calculus right now, and I bombed out of Calc III, I’ll let Comcast Sportsnet Chicago’s Chris Boden explain how the playoff math breaks down for Chicago…
A regulation loss to Detroit, coupled with a Dallas regulation or overtime win in Minnesota, results in the Blackhawks being eliminated from the top eight in the West.
The only way the Blackhawks advance if they lose in regulation to Detroit is if Dallas gains only one point (with an overtime or shootout loss in Minnesota), or a shootout win, which gives the Hawks the tie-breaker, by virtue of one more regulation/overtime win (38 to 37). Staying in the #8 spot means the Hawks would open versus Vancouver.
If the Blackhawks gain only one point with an overtime or shootout loss, they still clinch on points over Dallas, and would be the 7th seed - tied with Los Angeles with 98 points, but holding a regulation-/overtime-win tie-breaker over the Kings. That means they would face San Jose in the second round. The Sharks clinched the second-seed with their win over Phoenix Saturday night.
By the end of Saturday night’s action, Phoenix and Nashville remained at 99 points, with 38 regulation/overtime victories apiece. Any Blackhawks win Sunday makes them a 5th-seed, facing 4th-seeded Anaheim. It gives them 99 points. If it’s in regulation or overtime, they’ll have 39. But they own both tie-breakers against both, even if they beat the Red Wings in a shootout. They collected eight points to the Predators’ six in head-to-head action this season. And while both the Hawks and Coyotes each earned five points against each other in that season series, the Hawks own the next tie-breaker, overall goal-differential.
In other words, as the Chicago Sun-Times’ Adam L. Jahns would suggest, the “wins without shootouts” rule tweak “changed everything,” or, as the Chicago Daily Herald’s Tim Sassone might put it, win and the Hawks are just Ducky; lose and get help, and they’re swimming with Sharks:
Not only will a Blackhawks win on Sunday over Detroit at the United Center clinch a playoff spot, it would push the Hawks to fifth place in the Western Conference and earn them a first-round date with Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne andthe Anaheim Ducks.
Of course, all the Hawks need to make the playoffs is 1 point out of Sunday’s game. That would give them 98 points, a seventh-place finish and a first-round matchup with No. 2 San Jose.
Sassone figures that the Hawks are predisposed to win today’s game pretty handily and do some serious damage once the playoffs begin, and the Hawks’ ever-confident players agree with his assessment:
The Hawks have defeated the Red Wings four times in five games. They split four games with Vancouver, the best team in the NHL during the regular season, and went 4-0 against Los Angeles and 3-1-2 against Nashville, two very good clubs. Yet there were unexplainable losses on home ice to Edmonton (twice), the league’s worst team, Columbus (twice), Colorado and Minnesota.Yet for all their shortcomings and inconsistencies, there isn’t a contender in the Western Conference looking forward to drawing the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. That’s because when the Hawks are on their game, focused and flying around the ice using their speed and skill, they can be as good as anyone in the league.
“We’ve shown what this team can do when we play together and play as a team,” defenseman Brian Campbell said.
The problem is the Hawks aren’t in the playoffs as the regular season comes down to its final day. Only one playoff spot remains in the West and the Hawks can take it today by beating the Red Wings again at the United Center. If the Hawks lose in regulation, they then would need Dallas to lose or win in a shootout in its finale at Minnesota. All that matters to the Hawks is getting into the tournament, where every spring in the NHL somebody proves crazy things can happen.
“We’ve seen it before where teams that finish seventh or eighth get on a roll and do some damage,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “Once you get to the playoffs anything can happen.”
“These last two games (against Detroit) and the pressure we’re under right now is getting us ready (for the playoffs), but we’re not looking ahead to anything,” Toews said. “We’ve got a job to do (today) and we’re going to do it.”
The Hawks received good news on two fronts in that Dave Bolland (concussion) might be playoff-ready, and that Patrick Sharp (knee) and Tomas Kopecky (ear), who skipped Saturday’s practice, are good to go today, but the Hawks spent Saturday’s post-practice media availability puffing out their chests and insisting that they’d take control of their own fate by all but guaranteeing a win over the Wings today, as the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc noted:
“It’s the biggest game,” Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell said. “(Friday) was the biggest game before that, and the game before that was the biggest game. They’re all big to us. They’ve been like that for a while.”
“It’s nothing new for us, but it’s a lot better to be deciding your own fate instead of worrying about someone else,” Crawford said.
A reprise of Friday night would help. The Hawks ventured on to opposing ice at Joe Louis Arena and got off to a nuclear-powered start, scoring three first-period goals and demonstrating the determination and urgency that the situation demanded. Given the rollicking, up-and-down season to date, it’s nearly impossible to predict how the Hawks will react Sunday.
“It was a must-win game (Friday),” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “So is Sunday. We’re not satisfied with (Friday’s victory). We’re not going to sit on it and say, that was a heck of a game, it has been a hell of a season, see ya later. We’re adults, we’re pros in here, and most of all, we respect and like each other so we’re going to work hard for each other. We’ll do the same thing Sunday.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville went a step further, suggesting that only the defending Stanley Cup champions can know the kind of urgency and desperation that the Blackhawks will display today:
“We’re the only team that’s playing all 82 with a huge purpose behind them,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Our goal and focus all year was to get in. It’s something we’ve been targeting all year and it has been a battle. A major battle for us. But we still put ourselves in the position where we do have control. So let’s get excited about it.”
Quenneville continued while speaking to the Sun-Times’ Jahns, who got on the bandwagon:
The Hawks have some of the best big-game players in the league. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and others have a history of excelling in such situations. But the Red Wings — despite being without injured Henrik Zetterberg — have similar players. And judging by some of the comments coming from their locker room after the Hawks’ 4-2 victory Friday, the Red Wings sound like they’re out to prove they’re not the ones struggling down the stretch. But the Red Wings won’t have additional motivation. The San Jose Sharks’ 3-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes cemented the Wings as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, with the Sharks second.
“We expect a dangerous team with a lot of incentive on their side, and there’s incentive on our side,” Quenneville said. “We’re the only team that’s playing all 82 with a huge purpose behind them. That’s got to be our focus. We never had an easy one all year, so we don’t expect one.”
Quenneville said he could see the urgency in his players’ faces before their victory Friday at Joe Louis Arena. The Hawks fully expect the Stars to defeat the Wild, but there’s confidence in knowing their fate is in their hands.
“I know Dallas is going to win their game [today] — that’s pretty much the bottom line,” defenseman Brian Campbell said. “We have to take care of our business. We’re lucky enough that we have it, [and] we’ve done enough work throughout the regular season to put ourselves in that situation.”
“We’ve played a lot of big games this year, especially the last little stretch,” goalie Corey Crawford said. “It’s nothing new for us [today]. But it’s a lot better to be deciding your own fate instead of worrying about someone else. I’m sure we’ll have the best preparation we can. I don’t think they’re going to give us anything, either. I expect another hard game.”
Winger Bryan Bickell agreed while speaking to Comcast Sportsnet Chicago’s Tracey Myers...
“We need one point and we’re looking for two. Detroit’s going to want to come in and burst our bubble,” Bryan Bickell said. “We could come in (fifth) if other things happen. We want to get a win and not have to worry about Dallas.”
And the Hawks believe that they have three not-so-secret weapons on their side. The first two consist of Wing-killer Patrick Sharp and rookie Ben Smith, as the Daily Herald’s Sassone suggested...
Sharp has 2 assists in two games — both wins — since he returned early from a knee injury.
“The fact that he got back way ahead of schedule certainly helped the locker room, his leadership and his presence and the options he gives coaches to do different things,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
Said Sharp: “I did some different things (Friday) to get ready before the game and it felt a little better skating.”
The Hawks are also 2-0 with Smith playing left wing on a line with Michael Frolik and Patrick Kane. Smith scored his first NHL goal in the win at Detroit.
The third element the Hawks believe will aid them is the atmosphere at the self-declared “Madhouse on Madison,” as ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers noted:
“It’s our job to use them because they’re just going to be looking for an excuse to get excited and it’s our job to get them going right away,” Jake Dowell said.
Slow starts at home have been the norm as often as fast ones this season. Most players agreed this isn’t a game you want to have to play in comeback mode. That leads to tight play, which leads to mistakes.
The only difference is: this one has a win-or-go-home mentality, much like a postseason Game 7. The Hawks do have a chance to back in if they lose, but they’re not hearing any of that.
As for nerves, there’s no avoiding them no matter how many big games they’ve been through.
“I’m sure I’ll be a little nervous,” Crawford said. “Friday was a little nervous going into the first period. That’s only normal I think.”
Nervous is fine, tight is not. The best thing going for the Hawks in a situation like this is leadership and poise. Experience doesn’t hurt either. It should allow for at least a close game, which is exactly what the Hawks need.
Quenneville knows a point gets his team into the postseason and though he said, “You play to win the game,” is there any doubt he’ll coach to the situation if it’s tied in the third period? One game to determine if they get to defend their title. It’s not the script anyone would have written, but it provides for a dramatic ending. Just how the Hawks like it.
The media loves that cra…I mean stuff, too, but “great stories” don’t always prevail.
So let’s shift gears by taking a look at Chris Kuc’s capsule preview...
Series: Hawks lead 4-1.
Last meeting: Hawks won 4-2 Friday at Joe Louis Arena.
Probable goaltenders: Hawks, Corey Crawford, 33-17-6, 2.27 goals-against average; Red Wings, Jimmy Howard, 36-17-5, 2.78.
Storyline: If the Hawks win, they are in the playoffs. If they muster a single point, they are in the playoffs. If not, they are waiting nervously to see how the Stars fare in Minnesota later Sunday. The question is whether an emphatic Hawks victory in Detroit on Friday is a harbinger of more or a spark for the Red Wings to play spoiler.
And allow NHL.com’s John Kreiser’s preview to shift our focus from the Hawks to the Wings:
Big story—The Hawks know what they have to do—get a point and they’ll get a chance to defend their Stanley Cup. A regulation loss opens the door for the Dallas Stars. Detroit is struggling to the finish and will know beforehand whether it can pass San Jose for second in the West.
Not gonna happen. The Wings will finish in 3rd place.
Red Wings [team scope]—The Wings will go into the playoffs as Central Division champions. But they’re not exactly closing with a rush. Friday’s 4-2 final score was a lot closer than the actual game—the Hawks led 4-2 by the midway point of the second period and never sweated the outcome.
“They did what they had to do. We made three big mistakes and the puck was in the back of our net,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Their urgency was at a different level than ours. There’s no excuse for us. They’re playing for their life and we knew that before the game. We thought we were prepared and obviously we weren’t. And, if you’re not all in and not all committed mentally to what you’re doing you’re not going to be very successful. Obviously we didn’t want to play like that tonight.” ...
Who’s hot—Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook scored the first goal on Friday and has 5 points in four games. Marian Hossa has goals in Chicago’s last two games.
Injury report—Detroit will again be without forward Henrik Zetterberg (lower-body) and defenseman Niklas Kronwall (upper-body). Goalie Chris Osgood is still sidelined after sports hernia surgery. … Chicago is still without center Troy Brouwer (lower body), who missed his second game on Friday, and Dave Bolland, who has missed a month with a concussion.
Stat pack—Detroit’s Johan Franzen electrified the NHL with a five-goal game at Ottawa on Feb. 2. Since then, he’s scored only two goals. … The Hawks are 28-16 in games decided by two goals or more, but just 16-21 in games decided by one goal.
Both the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan and MLive’s Ansar Khan take up the Wings’ side of the equation by talking playoff calculus, but whoever booked Khan’s flight to Chicago deserves a bonus (as does Khan) because he both spoke to the Wings during Saturday’s practice, reporting that Danny Cleary missed practice because he was theoretically unwell but OK to play, and he offers the Wings players’ take as to why Detroit’s on-ice product and the process by which they achieve whatever result they earn matter equally to Detroit:
“You want to go in feeling good about yourself and having confidence back,” [Brad] Stuart said. “It’s probably an area where we’re not quite there right now, a little below what we need to be.”
As Khan points out, the Wings absolutely roared into the playoffs thanks to their post-Olympic playoff push last year, but this time around, they’ve lost two straight—and five of their past nine games (3-5-and-2)—so the Wings’ talk about regaining their confidence and poise is spot-on:
“I think it’s important just confidence-wise, to get the confidence up again,” team captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “You want to feel good about your game and how you’re playing going into the playoffs.”
“We got one more game to right the ship,” said goaltender Jimmy Howard, who will start today. “We need to win just to get on the right foot going into the playoffs. We just got to pay attention to details. That’s starting on time and playing a full 60 minutes.”
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to match what they’re bringing,” Stuart said. “It’s a huge game for them and it’s a big game for us. We have a chance to possibly keep them out of the postseason. We definitely have enough motivation.”
“We’re not happy with the way (Friday’s game) went,” Kris Draper said. “Now, it’s up to us to have a real strong game going into their building and taking a little momentum going into the playoffs. It’s basically a playoff game for Chicago. The atmosphere is going to be like a playoff game.”
The Wings’ players are on the same page as their coach, too, as the Free Press’s Carlos Monarrez notes:
“They’re playing Game 7 for them tomorrow,” Babcock said after Saturday’s practice at Joe Louis Arena.
The Blackhawks are fighting for their playoff lives and doing a good job of it. The Wings looked limp Friday, when they lost, 4-2, to Chicago and dropped their fourth straight to the defending Stanley Cup champs. But this year the Blackhawks are on the brink of missing the playoffs. The Wings have clinched a playoff spot and seemingly have nothing tangible to play for. However, everyone in the Wings’ locker room Saturday spoke of avoiding a lackluster finish heading into the first round of the playoffs this week.
“They’re going to be desperate tomorrow,” Babcock said of the Blackhawks. “There’s absolutely no question about it. We can tell ourselves it doesn’t matter. To me every time you put on your skates, it matters. It matters because of the feeling you have as a group and your compete level and your confidence.
“I don’t care who you are, if you don’t win after a while your confidence isn’t there. So it’s a big game for us that way tomorrow.”
As Danny Cleary suggested after Friday’s game, there’s been far too much talk and too little action of late. It’s time for the Wings to start backing up their words with on-ice deeds again.
And, that being said, Pro Hockey Talk’s James O’Brien and Joe Yerdon offered contrasting Wings and Hawks game previews, with Yerdon offering this astute point regarding the Red Wings’ ups and downs on collective and individual bases:
A lot of teams would like to have these sorts of problems that center around being able to aptly prepare for a potential run at the Stanley Cup, but in Detroit where winning the Cup is the goal each season, these sorts of headaches and worries get magnified to a hysterical degree. How Mike Babcock handles the injuries going into the playoffs will be a storyline to play up and you’d have to think the Wings are hoping they don’t end up paired against a very physical team.
Meh, the Predators and Coyotes’ game plans always involve beating and beating up the Wings, and that tends not to matter when the Wings focus on puck possession as their best defense.
Per the NHL’s media website, Paul Devorski and Stephen Walkom will referee today’s game, and Steve Miller and Mark Shewchyk will work the lines.
Pre-playoff match-up talk and stuff: I don’t like to talk about the possible teams the Red Wings could play, even when they’re narrowed down to one or two, until the match-ups are set in stone, but…
• It bears mentioning that, as the Arizona Republic’s Jim Gintonio notes, the Phoenix Coyotes could have earned the 4th-place spot in the Western Conference by defeating the San Jose Sharks, which they did not, and instead, the Wings or Sharks are the Coyotes’ potential first-round opponents;
• The Predators could have finished in fourth place as well, but they lost a 2-0 decision to St. Louis on Saturday. As the Tennessean’s Josh Cooper suggests, the Predators will obviously go into today hoping that the Blackhawks defeat the Red Wings in regulation or OT, which would yield a Nashville-Detroit match-up.
Regular-season play is rarely an indication of how teams’ post-season match-ups will go, but Cooper duly noted that the Predators handed the Wings’ butts to ‘em for the vast majority of the regular season:
Detroit: Predators head-to-head record: 4-1-1
This appeared to be Nashville’s best first round match-up — until the Red Wings showed their mettle in coming back from a 3-0 deficit to beat Nashville one week ago. Nashville’s good fortune against the Wings has had a lot to do with circumstance this season. Pavel Datsyuk played in three of the six games against Nashville. In one game, he was only in his second contest back from an injury. Also, Nashville once caught Detroit coming off a back-to-back. The Red Wings, however, lack the big, bruising forwards that have given Nashville fits this season. From a strict pound-for-pound match-up, Detroit is probably still Nashville’s best opponent to face in the first round.
• The Detroit Free Press asked Matthew Cammarata to assess the Wings’ possible playoff opponents on a scale of one to four (octopi), and he suggests that the Wings would probably prefer to play against Phoenix:
Phoenix: Four octopi
Despite going to seven games in their first-round series last year, the Coyotes are the best matchup the Wings could ask for this year. During the regular season the teams split their four games, with three of the four being one-goal games. But the Coyotes’ offense doesn’t put much fear into opponents, and goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov hasn’t been as strong as last year.
Nashville: Three octopi
The Red Wings have struggled all season against the Predators, winning only two of the six matchups with their division rival. However, in their last meeting, the Wings showed they could still flex their muscle, coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win, 4-3 in overtime. Goalie Pekka Rinne seems always to play well against the Wings and has had the best season of his career. The Predators’ offense is weak (2.6 goals per game), which should help the Red Wings. An added bonus is the close proximity of the two cities.
To me, the Predators and Coyotes are nearly identical. They play the trap to a tee, have mobile, puck-moving defensemen, and while their forwards aren’t the most potent group, they’re fast, physical and love to cycle the puck down low while crashing and banging the Wings’ defenders into the boards. Both teams are coached by tactical masters and line-matching zealots in Dave Tippett and Barry Trotz, and both teams have gigantic goalies (Rinne is 6’5” and Bryzgalov is 6’3”) who like to initiate contact with the Wings’ forwards and then complain to the referees if the Wings are the ones doing the crease-crowding, usually with predictable no-Detroit-goal results.
The Wings played their best hockey against both teams when they’ve won the battle for possession and control of the puck and when they’ve made the teams pay for their physical over-aggressiveness by scoring on the power play.
Also of Red Wings-related note: The Grand Rapids Griffins continue to stumble toward the finish line of their AHL season. The Griffins lost a 4-2 decision to the Rockford IceHogs on Saturday, and Brendan Smith got in a fight in the process. The Grand Rapids Griffins’ website’s recap notes that the Griffins encountered a Wing-worthy level of controversy...
The second period was scoreless, but it wasn’t without some controversy. Logan Pyett appeared to tie the game at three after rifling a shot past Richards from the point. However, it was ruled that the puck entered the net just after the second period ended, so Rockford held its 3-2 lead heading into the final frame.
And the IceHogs’ website, the Grand Rapids Press (which notes that Gustav Nyquist has registered 4 points over the course of 6 games with the Griffins) and Rockford Register-Star’s Reed Schreck provide recaps;
• In the QMJHL, the Montreal Juniors rolled over the Lewiston MAINEacs on Friday, but were dealt an equivalent blow on Saturday as Lewiston defeated Montreal 6-2. Both Trevor Parkes and Louis-Marc Aubry were held off the scoresheet;
• Things are going worse for the Plymouth Whalers. They dropped a 3-2 decision to the Owen Sound Attack, and now trail their series 2-0;
• As previously noted, Farjestads BK took a 2-1 series lead over Skelleftea via a 5-3 victory. Dick Axelsson registered assists on FBK’s 3-0 and 4-0 goals (then Farjestads held on), but he didn’t play in the third period after injuring himself while hitting
• According to the Boston Globe’s Kevin Dupont, Bruins forward Mark Recchi passed Chris Chelios in all-time games played on Saturday. Recchi’s played in 1,,652 games, one more than Chelios, but he’s got a ways to go before catching up to Gordie Howe’s 1,767 games played;
• As the Boston Herald’s Steve Conroy notes, Tim Thomas also bested former Wing Dominik Hasek’s .937 save percentage. If Thomas sits out the Bruins’ last game against New Jersey today, he’ll finish with a .938 save percentage;
• Inertia is a funny thing. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo’s giving his Norris Trophy vote to Zdeno Chara, and I’ve read more than a few writers of late insisting that Chara, not Nicklas Lidstrom, Keith Yandle, Lubomir Visnovsky or Dustin Byfuglien, should win the award because Chara continues to play dominant hockey with the Bruins. I get the feeling that between Chara’s status as the Norris winner, Visnovsky’s late push, Yandle’s “flavor of the day” status, the whole, “Shea Weber is the heir apparent to Chara” spiel and Lidstrom’s plus-minus, Nick’s got an uphill battle on his hands in terms of winning his seventh Norris—and Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal is giving the Norris to Chara, too;
• Speaking of Matheson, cue the “Duh meter”:
- It’s still slow going for Detroit Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood, who hasn’t played since Jan. 4 as he continues to rehab from his sports hernia surgery. He says he could play now, but the Wings don’t have any appetite for throwing him into the fire with a few practices under his belt. “It says Osgood on the back of his jersey, but it’s not Os-Good, know what I mean?” said Wings GM Ken Holland, who won’t have Ozzie backing up Jimmy Howard to start the playoffs. Nik Kronwall (shoulder) should be ready though after missing the last two weeks. Henrik Zetterberg (knee) is iffy to begin the post-season.
The CBC’s Jeff Marek and Scott Morrison suggested that Zetterberg’s got a knee injury (left) and is doubtful to start “the first few games” of the Wings’ first-round series prior to Saturday night’s Hockey Night in Canada telecast;
• In the charitable news category, the Red Wings’ Alumni Association will play against the Detroit Shriners on April 15th at 7 PM in Dearborn, MI;
• And finally, I’ll just suggest that the Free Press’s “Souvenir of the Week” is a little…generic.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.