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
“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
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
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.