DETROIT -- The regular season is winding to a close this week and as it does, there are some in the Motor City who are starting to look at possible first-round matchups and hoping for the most favorable opponent for the Detroit Red Wings.
The Red Wings, however, are not among those sizing up the opposition in the Western Conference. They know whichever team they face first will pose a tough challenge, which means the only thing they care about now is trying to secure at least one round of home-ice advantage.
Some fans have even hoped the Wings -- currently fifth in the West -- would slip into the sixth seed to avoid playing the well-balanced, defense-oriented Nashville Predators first.
"You know what, with that you're flirting with danger there when you're trying to pick your matchups," Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard said after Saturday's practice at Joe Jouis Arena. "You want to be playing your best and you want to go in there feeling like no matter who you're playing, you'll beat. You don't want to be flirting with disaster there by trying to pick your opponent."
The Red Wings host the Florida Panthers on Sunday afternoon at the "Joe" in a big game for both teams in terms of the postseason. Florida is trying to hang onto first place in the Southeast Division and the third seed in the Eastern Conference that comes with it, while Detroit will try to surpass the West's fourth-place Predators and surging Chicago Blackhawks.
Nashville lost at home on Saturday night to the Blackhawks, which pulled Chicago even in points (97) with the Red Wings. Detroit is technically ahead because of tie-breakers, but Chicago could pass both the Wings and Preds with a Panthers win on Sunday in the Motor City and a Blackhawks win on Sunday night in the Windy City.
Why are the remaining games and the points at stake still more important to all three Central Division rivals than who they face in the quarterfinal round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
"Because home ice advantage, even if it's only for one round ... can be vital in the playoffs in a series," Howard said. "By no means can we just coast in there. We've got to be playing and all be on our game."
Neither Florida nor Detroit skated on Sunday morning, but here is a look at how both teams could line up when the puck is dropped:
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Scottie Upshall
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Wojtek Wolski - Shawn Matthias - Kris Versteeg
Krys Barch - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky
Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Eric Gudbranson
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Gustav Nyquist - Pavel Datsyuk - Johan Franzen
Danny Cleary - Justin Abdelkader - Todd Bertuzzi
Drew Miller - Cory Emmerton - Tomas Holmstrom
Nicklas Lidstrom - Jonathan Ericsson
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Kyle Quincey - Jakub Kindl