The Chicago Blackhawks host their division-rival Detroit at the United Center Friday night as the Red Wings fight to keep a playoff spot in the final eight games of the season. It is the last time these two teams will face off in the regular season as members of the same conference as a result of the realignment agreement – Detroit will move to the Eastern Conference beginning next season.
While Chicago earned the rights of the first team in the league to clinch a playoff berth last week after a win over Nashville, Detroit currently sits in 8th place in the Western Conference. If Detroit wants to see the postseason this year, they will have to stave off a host of teams close behind. Phoenix, Edmonton, Dallas, Columbus and Nashville are all in close contention: just six points separate the 8th place Red Wings from the Nashville Predators sitting in 13th place.
The last time the Red Wings watched the playoffs from their couches came in the 1985 – 1986 season when they placed 5th in the Norris Division. Since then, they have taken 4 Stanley cup Championships back to the Joe Louis Arena.
Detroit has struggled this season, especially against the Blackhawks. Chicago holds a 3 – 0 – 0 record on the season and has a scoring advantage of 11 – 3 over those three games. Both Corey Crawford and Jimmy Howard have started in net for each match-up this season and it appears that they will face off yet again. In the most recent meeting of these two Original Six contenders, Chicago thrashed the Red Wings 7 – 1 in the Joe Louis Arena and saw Jonas Gustavsson replace Howard shortly after the second period began.
Crawford has a 0.96 GAA against Detroit this season and has gotten the nod from Quenneville to start tonight in Chicago despite the stellar performance of “backup” goalie Ray Emery. Both men are quality decisions for the lead goalie headed into the playoffs even though Emery has acknowledged that Crawford is, “the guy” whom he’ll be supporting this postseason. Quenneville seemed to hope that the goalie decision would be made for him, not made tougher for him. Emery and Crawford have a combined 0.923 save percentage and 30 – 5 – 4 record through 39 games this season.
Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa have both returned from injury after missing a good portion of March with upper-body afflictions and have given Chicago a boost. Chicago went 3 – 2 – 0 in the stretch without both Sharp and Hossa and lacked offensive prowess to deliver the dominant game-play it has shown right out of the gate this season. The return of these two top-liners is a big sigh of relief for fans and players alike going into the postseason.
Dave Bolland will not play Friday night and will miss this third game since leaving a game against Nashville just six days ago. Quenneville told media members after Friday’s morning skate that he may see action on Sunday against St. Louis. Darren Helm (back), Todd Bertuzzi (back), and Mikael Samuelsson (upper-body) will not play for Detroit in the United Center on Friday.