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Stiff challenges await Red Wings in 'Showdown'

by Brian Hedger
Considering how hot the Boston Bruins are right now, fighting off discount-seeking shoppers on Black Friday might be an easier challenge than facing the defending Stanley Cup champions.

That’s what the visiting Detroit Red Wings are facing, however, as they head East on Thursday night for the 2011 Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown on Friday (1 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN) at TD Garden.

Led by reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Tim Thomas and a high-scoring offense, the Bruins (13-7-0) are riding an impressive 10-game winning streak and look strong enough to be considered serious contenders to defend their Cup title. It might seem a little daunting, but the Red Wings (12-7-1) also see it as a delicious chance to measure up on Thanksgiving weekend – not to mention visit Beantown.

“It’s always fun to go to Boston,” Detroit star center Pavel Datsyuk quipped, following a 5-3 win at home on Wednesday night against the Calgary Flames. “Doesn’t matter whether you win or lose … it’s a great town. But we’ve got to take care of some business.”

They’ll start with a short practice session – akin to a morning skate – on Thanksgiving morning, followed by their own holiday celebrations and then a flight to Boston on Thursday evening. It’s also a good thing they’re currently riding three-game winning streak, which continues a season-long trend of streaks both bad and good.

Another bit of good news is that Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard has been arguably Detroit’s most consistent player – along with 41-year old captain Nicklas Lidstrom. Howard has amassed 11 wins and brings a miniscule 1.92 goals-against average and .927 save percentage into the ‘Showdown’ against Thomas – whose numbers are just as good or better (10 wins, 1.85 GAA and .936 save pct.).

It’s an exciting scenario for Howard, who counts himself as a fan of Thomas and looks forward to joining the fun on a sports weekend that’s already filled with enticing options for fans to watch.

“It’s great for our sport,” Howard said of the ‘Showdown,’ which is also the first NBC telecast of the season. “I hope they continue to move forward with it. One of the things I always remembered growing up was watching football games on Thanksgiving and now we’re throwing hockey into the mix on Friday. It makes for a great sports weekend.”

It could also make for a bit of a measuring stick for the Red Wings – who still have their sights set on winning a 12th Cup despite some early bumps in the road.

“Boston is always one of those teams that’s fun to play against,” said Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who has five goals and two assists in his past 10 games. “It’s one of those big teams, where you know their building is very loud and they’ve got a good team and they won it last year. It’s going to be a great test for us, obviously.”

Lidstrom sees it similarly.

“We’re facing the defending Stanley Cup champions,” the legendary Red Wings defenseman said. “It’ll be a fun game to play, especially when you play them in their building. It’s going to be hyped up. I haven’t seen them play a whole lot, but looking at their lineup they still have a lot of strong players, good players and young players.”

None of the Bruins is younger than 19-year old Tyler Seguin, but the way he’s played may indicate there isn’t a Boston player as naturally gifted either. Seguin has scored eight goals and recorded five assists in his past 10 games and has already potted 12 goals and racked up 11 assists in 20 games.

To put that into perspective, Seguin – the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft – had just 11 goals and 22 points in 74 games as a rookie last season.

Slowing him down will be key for the Red Wings, but so will finding ways to defend Milan Lucic (eight goals and eight assists), Patrice Bergeron (four goals and 12 assists), Zdeno Chara (three goals and 12 assists), Brad Marchand (seven goals and nine assists) and Chris Kelly (seven goals and seven assists) – just to name a few good point producers.

And that’s skipping over the outstanding work of both Thomas and backup Tukka Rask in net.

“You know their weapons,” Howard said. “You know they’ve got great goalies and they got one of the best defenseman in the game in Zdeno Chara. Up front they work hard and have a lot of big bodies and they will take the puck hard to the net. It’s going to be a challenge for sure.”
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