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Red Wings can damage Blackhawks' playoff hopes

by David Kalan
BLACKHAWKS (40-26-8) at RED WINGS (44-22-9)


Last 10 --
Chicago 5-3-2; Detroit 5-3-2

Season Series -- The Blackhawks have taken two of three from the Wings this year, including a 4-1 victory at the Joe on Jan. 22.

Big Story -- Detroit does not appear to have much concern as far as a postseason berth this spring, but the defending champs are in a much more precarious position. Chicago is currently in the eighth spot in what is still a very tight race in the West, and could use a win against its Original Six rival to secure a chance of defending its title.
Team Scope:

Blackhawks -- Despite Chicago's salary cap purge this past offseason, the Hawks were still expected by many to at least make the postseason even if they didn't repeat as champions. But after a tough 2-1 loss to Anaheim on Saturday night, in which Chicago gave up two third-period goals, there is much in doubt for the Hawks. The Ducks leapfrogged the Blackhawks in the standings as a result, leaving Chicago just one point ahead of ninth-place Calgary, though with three games in hand on the Flames. Tenth-place Dallas, which is just two points back, might be an even greater concern.

Those circumstances make the three-game road trip the Hawks open in Detroit on Monday all the more crucial as they go for their third consecutive postseason berth. Chicago will visit Boston and Columbus after facing the Wings, which is no easy road to travel. In addition, the Hawks are still without leading scorer Patrick Sharp, but fortunately for Chicago, the rest of its top guns have picked up the pace. While Jonathan Toews has been leading the offense of late, Marian Hossa (18 points in 15 games) and Patrick Kane (14 points in 13 games) have also kept the team on the scoreboard.

Red Wings --
The Red Wings are in first place in the Central Division, and with Nashville, their nearest competitor, five points away, Detroit seems a safe bet to win the division title. Their No. 2 seed in the West is hardly safe, however, as San Jose has been hot on the trail. Throw into the mix that the Wings are currently battling several injuries and there is plenty of reason for concern as the playoffs approach.

There was good news for Detroit on Sunday, when the team learned goaltender Jimmy Howard, who left Saturday night's win over Toronto after a run-in with Maple Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul, had only suffered a sprain to his shoulder and was likely to miss a brief stretch as opposed to a lengthier stint. While Howard told reporters he hopes to be back Wednesday, he is listed as day-to-day meaning backup Joey MacDonald will be in net for Detroit on Monday night. MacDonald is 5-4-2 this season with a .928 save percentage and a 2.05 goals-against average.

Who's Hot -- Danny Cleary and Henrik Zetterberg have done their best to carry Detroit's beat up offense, with each tallying four points in the last four games. … While Hossa and Kane have each been impressive of late, Toews has been the most productive, with 24 points in his last 17 games.

Injury Report --
The Blackhawks are still waiting on Sharp's return from a knee injury, as he is expected to miss at least one more week. Dave Bolland continues to be sidelined indefinitely with a concussion. … Beyond Howard, Detroit's injury woes appear to be the last real obstacle for the team ahead of the postseason. While Brian Rafalski (lower-body injury) and Todd Bertuzzi (back) both played Saturday against Toronto despite their ailments, Johan Franzen (groin) and Pavel Datsyuk (lower-body injury) both missed the game.

Stat Pack --
The Blackhawks made noise two years ago when they brought two former Red Wings into the fold in Hossa and Tomas Kopecky. While Hossa has proved a crucial offensive piece in his two seasons in Chicago, one wonders if Kopecky was brought in specifically for what he knows about Detroit. If that's the case, it's proven a shrewd move. Kopecky has four of Chicago's 10 goals against the Red Wings this season.

Puck Drop -- While Detroit's pursuit of the No. 2 seed in the West is important, the bigger priority for the Wings is to get the roster as healthy as possible before the postseason starts. The stakes are far higher for the Hawks, whose fate could very easily rest on what happens during this road trip. Fortunately for Chicago, Detroit isn't too far from home and it hasn't felt like it is lately either. The Blackhawks have won in their last three visits to the Joe.

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