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Notes: Last chapter of Wings-Leafs at the Joe tonight

Goaltender Jimmy Howard looking forward to facing Toronto's young stars

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT - The Detroit Red Wings-Toronto Maple Leafs rivalry will always be a great one but after tonight, it will take place in a different venue.

The two Original Six teams face off for the final time at Joe Louis Arena tonight. The next time they meet in Detroit will be at Little Caesars Arena, which will open this fall.

"The atmosphere has been great every time I've been part of coaching a team in this building, against the Leafs, the atmosphere has been great," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I expect it to be great again tonight. I know tickets were extremely hard to come by. It's a lot more fun when you win, so hopefully we can make sure we're on the right side of that."

It's also particularly special for Toronto coach Mike Babcock, who spent 10 years of his career at the Joe.

"I don't know how historic this game is but the last one is going to be something, to say the least, this season and how special the Joe is," Babcock said. "As much as the building is special it's the people that make it special, from Al Sobotka, who drives the Zamboni, to Leslie, who hands out the food to Frankie who brings the coaches a beer to all the guys that do the cleaning, to the Ilitch family.

"But the fans are fantastic, they set a standard, expected a standard in the way of play and expected to be in the playoffs. It's been an unbelievable building, lots of fond memories, but it's great for what Mr. I is doing for the city of Detroit with the new building downtown."

Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard is one of the many players who enjoys the match-up.

"Whenever these two teams meet, it seems to be for an exciting game," Howard said. "I wouldn't expect anything less. The fans are going to be in it so it's going to be a fun atmosphere here to play."

Dylan Larkin's dad, Kevin, was born in Toronto and they still have many relatives there, so there's an extra element for him in playing the Leafs.

"It's pretty exciting, the chants that go back and forth; the fans don't like each other that much," Larkin said. "I'm sure the Leafs fans will be fired up tonight they need the points and they'll probably be pretty cocky because they are in the playoffs and we're not so it will be a good atmosphere."

In 10 career games against the Leafs, Howard is 5-2-2 with a 1.92 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.

"They're extremely well-coached, they play with great structure and their young guys are pretty fun, they're fun to watch," Howard said. "Tonight's going to be my first time playing against them so I can't wait to see what they can bring."

Howard was referring to Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Connor Brown and Zach Hyman.

Larkin knows Hyman from their days playing together at Michigan.

So he's not surprised that Hyman is tied for third in shorthanded goals with four.

"He's a hard worker, he pays attention to detail and he's a skater," Larkin said. "You see that on the shorthanded goals he's scored, whether that's getting the puck in his own zone and racing down the ice or whatever it is. He's going to find those chances and find those pucks and his hockey sense and he's going to be able to bury it."

Matthews, Nylander and Marner are three of the top four rookie scorers in the league.

Matthews is 27th in overall scoring and tied for fourth with St. Louis forward Vladimir Tarasenko in goals with 36.

Blashill was an assistant for Babcock in the 2011-12 season and appreciates how he's guided the young players to a 37-24-15 record.

"I think he's done a great job, the organization has done a great job," Blashill said. "They obviously have some real great young talent in there that's changed their team just in a year. So, it'll be a heck of a challenge for us tonight."

Babcock said he had a chance to come in Thursday as the team had an off day.

"I got to see my girls at the University of Michigan," Babcock said. "I've talked a lot about my kids - they were kids when we got here and grew up here. We had a lot of good times here. We had a lot of memories, but in saying that, life is about making new memories and that's what the new building is going to be here for Red Wings' fans and the team here.

"But I have to tell you about how excited I am about our young team and what we are doing in Toronto and the opportunity we have. Tonight's an important night."

While the Leafs are likely in the playoffs and the Wings are not, that doesn't mean there's nothing at stake for Detroit.

"I love beating him," Blashill said about Babcock. "There's no question about it. He has to buy the beers at the draft. We'll see. I guess I'll put that on the line tonight."

The Wings are 0-2-1 against the Leafs this season, but 283-278-93-6 all-time.

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