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Central-leading Blackhawks face off with Red Wings

by David Kalan
RED WINGS (30-22-12) at BLACKHAWKS (43-16-5)

Last 10: Detroit 4-3-3; Chicago 6-3-1

Season series:
The Hawks lead the season series, 3-1, taking the last three meetings including their most recent showdown, a 4-3 shootout win at Joe Louis Arena on Jan. 17.

Big story: With a healthy roster finally in tow, the Red Wings will look to continue their post-Olympic climb up the West standings against the rival Blackhawks at the United Center.

Team Scope:

Red Wings:
After battling a massive slew of injuries all season long, the Wings finally have a full lineup, which has thrust them back into the West's top eight. Detroit was on the verge of spending its first April on the links in two decades, but the two-time defending conference champs have slowly crept into the final postseason slot by winning three of their last four, including a 5-2 trouncing of Nashville Friday night on the strength of two goals by Darren Helm.

The win was a veritable four-pointer with the Predators sitting ahead of the Wings in the seventh spot, and if Detroit's horses continue performing as they have, Nashville may not be in front for long. Or perhaps Mule would be the more appropriate equine term -- Johan Franzen has four goals in his last five games, while Henrik Zetterberg has eight points in his last seven and Tomas Holmstrom has four points in his last three. If the offense of Detroit's big red machine keeps rolling, the rise up the ranks could continue before the regular season.

Blackhawks: Of course while the Winged Wheel might be rolling, Chicago has established itself as the class of the Central this season. The Hawks appear to have a stranglehold on their first division title since 1993, and have spent the past week jockeying with the San Jose Sharks in the race for the West's top seed. Chicago holds a major edge over San Jose, having more wins and a victory in the season series. The Sharks will have to take the No. 1 seed outright if they're to have it at all.

Chicago, too, has been strong of late, winning two straight and six of seven overall. The Hawks looked particularly good in a 6-3 dismantling of Vancouver and Olympic goaltender Roberto Luongo Friday, and while Chicago might have made the Canucks' Olympian look bad, its own have shined of late. Marian Hossa has four points in his last two games, while Jonathan Toews, who had a particularly strong tournament in Vancouver, has eight points in his last four. Even the forwards who got two weeks off have produced, as Patrick Sharp has 11 points in his last seven games.

Who's hot:
Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk is one of many Wings lighting up the scoresheet with seven points in his last four games, but Chicago's Patrick Kane has been just as, if not more productive, notching 12 points in his last seven.

Injury report:
The Hawks should have a full lineup, as Adam Burish was activated from the IR, where he had languished since having preseason knee surgery. … Detroit recently lost Kirk Maltby for the remainder of the season after right shoulder surgery, but is otherwise healthy.

Stat pack:
Chicago's offense has been striking fear into many opponents lately, but the Hawks might need to pay attention to the offense they've allowed as opposed to created. The Blackhawks have allowed 21 goals in their past six outings.

Puck drop:
Chicago's place in the playoffs has been assumed for most of this season, but the battered Red Wings have been a question mark for much of the year. Those questions seem to be getting answers, and if Detroit can knock off Chicago Sunday, it may be incontrovertible evidence that not only will the Wings once again be in the mix come the postseason, but they'll be a tough out when they get there.

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