Get out your Octopi, it’s playoff time!
Fishin' for thoughts
With much still to be decided in the Western Conference playoff picture, the Red Wings, thanks to another great season, have already clinched the Central Division and are sitting on the 2-seed with six games left to play in the regular season.
Detroit, with 107 points, is four points behind San Jose, who leads the NHL with 111 points, and nobody in the rest of the conference can catch either team.
Six teams — Columbus, Nashville, St. Louis, Anaheim, Edmonton and Minnesota — are currently separated by only six points and only three of those six will make the playoffs. Dallas and Los Angeles aren’t mathematically eliminated yet; but for all intensive purposes, you can count them out.
As it sits right now, Detroit will be hosting the Predators of Nashville in the first round, which could make for an interesting match-up as the Wings have gone 2-2 against Nashville…most recently a 4-3 loss at home on March 29; and an April 9 game between the two could carry heavy implications heading into the post-season.
Nashville only has three players with 20-plus goals this season (Legwand, 20, Arnott, 27, and defenseman Shea Weber, 21) compared to the Wings almost six (Samuelsson has 19), including four players with 30-plus goals. Detroit’s role players are the biggest difference in this match-up, as they usually are, mostly due to the chemistry they’ve developed in playing together for the better part of two or three seasons (Hudler, Samuelsson and Cleary), some of them a great deal more (Draper, Holmstrom and Maltby). But with the backend of the Western Conference playoff picture still too cloudy, it’s impossible to guess whom the Wings will actually play.
The goaltender situation might look sticky for the Wings, but doesn’t it always? Every year it seems like Detroit has a clear-cut favorite before the regular season starts and by the end, there’s always a controversy over who should play going back to the days of Mike Vernon. Whether it was Vernon/Osgood, Hasek/Legace, Cu(rtis)Jo(seph)/Legace, or Osgood/Conklin, it’s a recurring theme in the Motor City. Analysts and hockey faithful, for some reason, believe a team can only use one goalie in the playoffs or else team chemistry and consistency will suffer. Personally, I think that’s a load of garbage. It doesn’t hurt the team during the regular season and it shouldn’t hurt them in the playoffs. The Red Wings aren’t a normal team either. Their talent level is through the roof and whomever plays goalie never seems to bother the team in any way. That’s why I think it would actually be a mistake to pick a number one for the playoffs, just for the sheer reason of it being the playoffs.
The regular season for Detroit has been as near perfect as you can get in hockey. The team had several injuries to key players throughout, but none of them were major injuries, which allowed the Wings to consistently examine its talent in the minors by bringing up an array of different players, like Meech, Kopecky and Ericsson, during those short-spanning injuries.
The only player on the injured-reserve list, as of March 31, is Andreas Lilja, who’s been out with a concussion since March 3; and I would expect him to be 100-percent by the time the playoffs actually get here…and if not, I’d still feel completely comfortable with any replacement filling in as the Wings have several players who’ve filled in during the season and not missed a beat.
Detroit has six games left to catch San Jose to clinch home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs; but believe me it won’t be easy, as was evidence in a 2-0 loss at home to the last-place Islanders March 27. The Wings play their remaining six games against St. Louis, Minnesota, Buffalo, Nashville and two against the fourth-place Chicago to end the regular season.
In the end, once the playoffs start, I can’t see the Red Wings being pushed too far in any one series until the conference finals, ideally against San Jose. Even then, I expect the Wings to flex their talent and chemistry muscles to the max and beat San Jose in five or six games, sending Detroit back to the finals to claim Lord Stanley’s Cup for the second time in as many years and the fifth time in past 12.