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.