Red Wings-Blackhawks Preview

The Chicago Blackhawks need a win in their season finale to

clinch the best record in the Western Conference. They’d also love

to head into the playoffs with some considerable momentum.

They can do that by earning a seventh straight victory Sunday

afternoon against the visiting Detroit Red Wings.

Had Chicago (52-22-7) been tied with San Jose on points, the

Blackhawks would have finished atop the conference for the first

time since 1993. The Sharks, though, took a two-point lead in the

standings after beating Phoenix 3-2 in shootout Saturday.

With a win over the Red Wings, Chicago gets the conference’s top

seed by virtue of having more wins than San Jose.

Chicago, though, is concentrating on adding to its late-season

run. Until a 4-0 win in Minnesota on March 31, the Blackhawks were

5-7-2 following the Olympic break and were outscored 16-7 during a

three-game losing streak to conclude that stretch.

They’ve bounced back to earn their six straight wins by a 25-11

margin but have also been clicking in other facets of their game.

Rookie Antti Niemi has a 1.81 goals-against average while starting

each game, and he’s helped the Blackhawks kill off 21 of 23

penalties in eight straight starts.

In a 5-2 win in Colorado on Friday night, Chicago also snapped

an 0-for-18 power-play slump as Jonathan Toews converted in the

first period.

“We can use that confidence to keep getting better on the power

play,” Toews said. “It’s going to be a big part of our game going

into the playoffs.”

The Blackhawks have scored at least four goals in four straight,

and their fourth line has sparked that resurgence.

Center Colin Fraser has four goals in the past three games after

registering two in his first 66. Wingers Ben Eager and Tomas

Kopecky have six points apiece to match Toews and Kris Versteeg for

the most during the win streak.

Like Chicago, Detroit (43-24-14) is looking to finish strong.

The Red Wings fell to ninth in the West on March 9, but a 12-1-2

mark since then has given them an opportunity to finish as high as

fifth.

Detroit has also thrived with help from a young goaltender. The

26-year-old Jimmy Howard has started all but one game since March

10 while posting a 1.89 GAA.

He recorded his second shutout in that span with Friday night’s

1-0 shootout win in Columbus.

“(I’m) just being patient out there and having fun,” Howard

said.

Howard, though, has a 3.26 GAA against the Blackhawks this

season, winning in Chicago on March 7 despite allowing four goals.

The Red Wings overcame a 2-0 deficit by scoring all of their goals

in the second period of a 5-4 victory, which snapped a three-game

slide to their rivals.

Detroit had been shut out in its previous two regular-season

games at the United Center.

In the conference finals last season, the Red Wings won 6-1

there in Game 4 before clinching a trip to the Stanley Cup finals

three days later at home.