The giant purple octopus named "Al" will be ready to make its annual playoff appearance inside Joe Louis Arena, and Detroit Red Wings
fans will also be primed for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Hockeytown.
The question is, will the Red Wings themselves be ready to turn "The Joe" into a hostile environment on Wednesday night in a Western Conference quarterfinal series opener against the Phoenix Coyotes
That's the plan, but the way Detroit has played at home down the stretch run of the regular season has some wondering if they can re-establish a clear home-ice advantage. At the very least, it's something that hasn't been lost on the Wings.
"You want to have your home rink be a place where opponents don't really want to come," center Valtteri Filppula
said after Tuesday's practice. "That's been the case for a long time (here), and the last little bit we haven't played as well at home as we've wanted. That's definitely something we hope to get changed now that we're in the playoffs."
"You want to have your home rink be a place where opponents don't really want to come. That's been the case for a long time (here), and the last little bit we haven't played as well at home as we've wanted. That's definitely something we hope to get changed now that we're in the playoffs." -- Valtteri Filppula
Overall this season, Detroit went 21-14-6 at home -- which isn't exactly bad, but isn't the kind of home-ice domination fans here want to see. They also went 8-10-2 over the last 20 games at Joe Louis Arena.
The struggles weren't just caused by just one thing, either. The Red Wings have suffered from poor starts and lethargic play at times, as well as carelessness with the puck in their own zone.
In a couple of games, it led to some disappointing and embarrassing results -- including a 10-3 rout at the hands of the St. Louis Blues
on March 30 and a 4-2 loss to the rival Chicago Blackhawks
on April 8 in which the Wings were down 3-0 after the first period and 4-0 in the second.
More of the same mistakes on Wednesday night against the Coyotes could be even more costly.
"The regular season is already history," Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall
said. "We have to turn it around and play basically the game that we play on the road a lot of nights. We have to bring that home and make sure that Phoenix knows we're coming after them. We have to come out with a way better start than we have the last few months here -- just go after 'em, go after 'em … shift after shift."
They don't even need to get an early lead, although that would help.
"We have to come out strong skating and try to get the puck in their end and create some things," Filppula said. "The last few games it's been the opponent coming into our end and doing things to us. We just have to try and turn the table on that."
Kronwall, Osgood feeling better:
The Red Wings will likely make the final call about whether Kronwall (upper body) plays in Game 1 against Phoenix after warm-ups.
Kronwall missed the final two games of the regular season against the Blackhawks to rest his undisclosed injury, which is believed to be a sore shoulder. On Tuesday he went through his first full practice since leaving the lineup and felt good.
How he feels coming into Wednesday's morning skate and how he feels afterward will be the ultimate factors on whether he plays.
"I'm very optimistic right now, but we'll see how it feels tomorrow," Kronwall said. "I'll talk to the trainers and see what they think."
Meanwhile, veteran backup goalie Chris Osgood
will not be on the bench to start the series despite feeling much better in his recovery from groin/sports hernia surgery in January. Osgood's practice reps are increasing, but Babcock said Joey MacDonald
will still back up Jimmy Howard
-- at least to start the playoffs.
"I'm going to just keep practicing," Osgood said. "I feel like I'm in great shape. I feel like if I had to go in I could play good. That is without a doubt. That's a good sign."
So is the fact his lateral movement has returned pain free.
"Four days ago I just all of a sudden started feeling real good and having it back," Osgood said. "I'm finally practicing and playing where I feel good. I'm not worried about hurting it. I have my movement now, so it's just a matter of practicing real hard and getting as close to game-ready as I can."
Wings compensating for Zetterberg injury:
The good thing about having a number of key players get injured is that it forced the Red Wings to find ways to win without them this season.
Now, they're faced with doing it again to start the playoffs because of star forward Henrik Zetterberg
's lower-body injury that happened last week in Carolina.
Without Zetterberg on the top line, the Wings have Johan Franzen
and Tomas Holmstrom
as wings for center Pavel Datsyuk
. On the second line, Justin Abdelkader
centers Danny Cleary
and Todd Bertuzzi
. Jiri Hudler
and either Mike Modano
or Drew Miller
will likely flank Filppula on the third line -- while Kris Draper
and Patrick Eaves
will most likely join center Darren Helm
on the fourth line.
"Missing (Zetterberg) is a big real big piece to our core lineup, but we've got good depth," Cleary said. "Right now, we've got a set of four lines that we feel is a good combination of physicalness, skill and some speed. Each line brings something different."
Howard ready to roll:
It will only be Howard's second NHL playoffs, but neither he nor his teammates are worried.
In fact, they're expecting him to feel more relaxed in net after getting his first playoffs out of the way as a rookie last season.
"It was just a new, unfamiliar situation (last year)," said Howard, who finalized a contract extension this season. "I've played in the (NCAA) national championship game, World Championships under-18 and World Junior Championships and everything like that, but when you're playing for something that you've dreamed about growing up all your life, and then all of a sudden you're there … it's different. It's sort of surreal."