When the smoke clears Sunday evening, the Wings will be either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed, but the Blackhawks do not have the luxury of feeling as comfortable. If the playoffs started today, Chicago would hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Yet the Dallas Stars are only two points behind Chicago, which means if the Blackhawks struggle this weekend, summer will start very early for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
When a reporter asked Wings goalie Jimmy Howard
if there was some extra motivation for the final two games knowing that the Wings could end their rivals’ season, he joked that maybe the Wings would want to let Chicago make the playoffs.
Then, on a more serious note, he said that the important thing is the Wings preparing themselves for the playoffs, and not worrying about another team’s fortunes.
“It’s going to be another hard game tonight,” Howard said. “They need to win, and we need to match their intensity for a full 60 minutes. I thought we did a great job the other day against Carolina in the first period, and then in the second and third we started turning pucks over and it bit us a little bit.
“Tonight, we have to concentrate on ourselves, a full 60 minutes of intensity, making sure we get pucks out at our blue line and in at theirs so it’s tough on their D.”
The Blackhawks will secure a playoff spot by earning at least a point tonight and the Stars fail to do the same at Colorado.
Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom
pointed out that the Wings are keeping an eye on the standings for their benefit, not necessarily for the Blackhawks. Detroit is one point behind second-place San Jose.
“It’s more a matter of playing well heading into the playoffs,” he said. “When you’re playing you want to win, you want to win the games, we want to move up in the standings too, to try to get the second spot, so I think our focus is to play well and win games in the last couple games that are left.”
The Wings will need help from Phoenix if they want to catch San Jose in the standings. The Sharks have a home-and-home with the Coyotes to conclude their season.Darren Helm
said the Wings aren’t concerning themselves with Chicago’s situation, because they plan to use these last two games to prepare for the competitiveness that lies ahead.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit lately to find our game,” Helm said. “I think that’s our main focus right now, just finding our game, finding a way to put a full 60 together and going into the playoffs on a positive note, knowing that we figured out how to play Red Wings’ hockey.
“We’ve played a lot of teams that are fighting for spots or for their playoff lives, and we haven’t responded quite the way we need to. Being a rival, like Chicago is, hopefully we’ll find a way to get focused, get motivated, and just realize what’s really at stake here. We have to play better hockey, it should have started a month ago, but we’ve got two games left here to get things going and go into the playoffs, we’ve got a good chance, a good opportunity ahead, so we’ve got to get these things fixed.”