Blackhawks-Red Wings Preview

The Chicago Blackhawks have maintained their spot atop the
Western Conference despite playing average hockey since their
record-setting point streak came to an end.

Catching Chicago doesn’t seem feasible for the Detroit Red
Wings, but picking up a rare victory over their rivals would only
help in their battle for playoff positioning.

The Blackhawks look to get back on track by earning a sixth
consecutive victory over Detroit on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena.

Chicago (25-5-3) hasn’t been quite the same since beginning the
season with an NHL-record 24-game point streak, going 5-5-0 in its
last 10 after Friday’s 2-1 home loss to Anaheim.

“It’s been going pretty (well) so far with our streak, but you
need some ups and downs and learn as a team and be strong,”
defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said.

The Blackhawks have been playing without two of their top
forwards due to upper-body injuries. Former Red Wing Marian Hossa
was placed on injured reserve Saturday after missing the last four
games, and Patrick Sharp has been out for nine straight.

Still, coach Joel Quenneville isn’t using any excuses for the
recently lackluster play that has resulted in his team dropping
three of four.

“Hopefully there’s lessons there because when the game’s on the
line, that’s when we’ve got to be our best,” Quenneville said after
his team allowed the game-winner with 2:08 to play Friday.

Quenneville’s club leads Anaheim by three points atop the West
with one game in hand and 15 to play. Additionally, Chicago has
built a 14-point cushion over second-place Detroit in the Central
Division.

“We’re not focused right now on the playoffs,” defenseman Duncan
Keith said. “We’re focused on improving our game so that going into
the playoffs we get what we expect out of ourselves.”

A possible first-round opponent for Chicago could be Detroit,
and matchups between these bitter rivals usually are as close as
they can get.

The first two meetings this season went past regulation, and the
Blackhawks won both by 2-1 scores as they improved to 10-1-2 over
the past 13 meetings. The last nine have all been one-goal
games.

Nick Leddy scored in overtime Jan. 27 in Chicago, and Patrick
Kane, who has six goals and nine assists during an eight-game point
streak, netted the tying goal late in the third period before
scoring the shootout winner at Detroit on March 3.

Chicago is 8-0-1 in its last nine trips to Joe Louis Arena,
though the Red Wings have earned at least a point in six of seven
there and will be retuning home after completing a 3-1-0 road trip
with Friday’s 2-0 loss to San Jose.

Detroit (17-12-5) is involved in a tight race for the final few
playoff spots and knows it won’t get any easier down the
stretch.

“The less games you have in the season, the more important they
get,” center Henrik Zetterberg said. “We see the standings and how
many games we’ve played and you have to get the points when you
can.”

The Red Wings had won five of six prior to Friday and have been
pleased overall with their play. They had scored a power-play goal
in each of their previous eight games and will look to break
through against a Chicago penalty kill that has snuffed out its
opponents’ last nine chances over five games.

“Once the playoffs come it’s not going to go your way every
single night,” said Jimmy Howard, who has a 1.79 goals-average in
his last six starts versus the Blackhawks. “I think we’re on the
right path here.”

Johan Franzen is day to day with a lower-body injury but is not
expected to play against Chicago, which could start Corey Crawford
in net.

Crawford is 2-4-0 with a 3.25 GAA in his last six appearances –
five starts – but has a 1.19 GAA while winning his last four
against Detroit.