Sunday marks the second and final matchup this season between the Blackhawks and their historical rivals, the Detroit Red Wings. Chicago fell 5-4 in Detroit on Jan. 22 following a six-round shootout. Patrick Kane recorded two assists in the losing effort, while Corey Crawford turned aside 27 shots in regulation and overtime, marking just the fifth time in 16 matchups against Detroit that the Blackhawks did not earn two points with Crawford in goal.
After practicing with his teammates again on Saturday, it appears that Marian Hossa is prepared to return to the lineup on Sunday night against his former team. Hossa, who has 24 goals and 50 points in 57 games this year, is an important player on offense and defense, as well as on both special teams units. The Slovakian winger has scored 10 goals and 14 assists in 31 contests against Detroit. Hossa has not played since March 1 due to an upper-body injury sustained during the Stadium Series game against Pittsburgh.
With only four weeks until the playoffs, Detroit is in danger of missing their first postseason in 23 years, due largely to their poor health this year. The Wings are currently sitting with five injured centers out of the lineup, including captain Henrik Zetterberg (back surgery), two-way star Pavel Datsyuk (knee), penalty killer Darren Helm (concussion) and Stephen Weiss (sports hernia), as well as quite a few others. With the exception of newly acquired veteran David Legwand, who was traded from Nashville at the deadline, no other active center on the Wings roster has more than 134 games of NHL experience to his credit, putting Detroit at a distinct disadvantage against almost any other group of forwards they may face.
Missing much of their depth and leadership due to injuries, the Red Wings have had a difficult time closing out opponents this season, and that’s shown in their overall record. Detroit has a winning percentage of just .559 when scoring first—26th in the league—and only one team ranks worse than the Red Wings’ .667 winning percentage when leading after two periods. Detroit has surrendered 70 goals in the third period, fifth-worst in the NHL.
The United Center will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on Sunday, which will include a green Blackhawks hat giveaway, and the Blackhawks will don green jerseys during pregame warmups. The signed sweaters will be auctioned online after the game, with all proceeds going to Chicago Blackhawks Charities.
The building will certainly be raucous come Sunday night, as fans of both sides will be locked in from the opening draw. Though the Red Wings will be without some of their most potent weapons, Detroit head coach Mike Babcock remains one of the league’s better bench bosses, and the Red Wings remain one of the league’s most disciplined teams. Many of Detroit’s best scoring chances result from turnovers, and the Red Wings often try to press opposing defensemen into making bad decisions below their own goal line. If the Blackhawks can protect the puck and pressure a largely inexperienced group of Red Wings forwards, that should go a long way towards besting their rivals.