The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings will meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 15th time and this will be the final meeting as conference mates. When the Red Wings move to the Eastern Conference next season once realignment kicks in they'll face the Blackhawks only twice a year going forward, unless the two meet in a Cup Final.
For now, they'll face off for the right to play in the Western Conference Final, a round where their last two playoff series against one another took place - both 4-1 series victories by the Red Wings.
Chicago cruised to the top spot in the West and their second Presidents' Trophy in franchise history, while Detroit stood on the playoff bubble before clinching a place in the postseason on the final day. To get to the second round, the Blackhawks ousted the Minnesota Wild in five games, while the Red Wings went the distance before knocking off the No. 2-seeded Anaheim Ducks.
Are the Red Wings just another step in the Blackhawks' road to a Cup? Can their long-timer division rivals upset the balance of power in the Western Conference?
Chicago Blackhawks (1) vs. Detroit Red Wings (7)
May 15: Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks, 8 p.m. ET.
May 18: Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks, 1 p.m. ET.
May 20: Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
May 23: Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings, 8 p.m. ET
May 25: Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks* TBD
May 27: Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings* TBD
May 29: Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks* TBD
The Blackhawks dispatched the Wild in five games and not one of their 17 goals was scored by Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews. That is what you call a deep team. Eight other Blackhawks lit the lamp with Patrick Sharp (5 goals), Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell (3 goals each) leading the way. If Kane and Toews haven't scored yet, and no ones complaining about where you're offense is coming from, that's a good sign for Chicago going forward.
Adding to their secondary scoring will be the return of Dave Bolland to the third line. Bolland, who has a knack for producing in the postseason (37 points in 49 games), has been out of the Blackhawks lineup since April 22 with a groin injury. Andrew Shaw, Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger will help anchor the bottom six production, while rookie Brandon Saad is still yet to score after a strong regular season campaign.
Detroit's top guns all led the way as the Red Wings upset the Ducks in the first round. Captain Henrik Zetterberg, who scored five points in the Red Wings' final two wins over Anaheim, leads the team in scoring with 8 points. Ever since they ended the regular season with four straight wins, Zetterberg has put his team on his back offensively, with 18 points over his last 11 games. Pavel Datsyuk (7 points) remained Pavel Datsyuk doing Pavel Datsyukian things.
Like the Blackhawks, Detroit was buoyed by some secondary scoring. Despite missing two games due to suspension, Justin Abdelkader scored two big goals against Anaheim. Daniel Cleary and Damien Brunner chipped in five points apiece. And Valtteri Filppula, who's looking for a big raise in the summer, scored a goal and assisted on two others in Games 6 and 7 against the Ducks.
Nine different Red Wings forwards scored in the first round, but Zetterberg and Datsyuk were relied on heavily to produce. To beat Chicago, an increase in secondary scoring has to come.
No team was better defensively through the first round than the Blackhawks, allowing just seven goals in five games, all at 5-on-5. A year ago, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith did the heavy lifting averaging over 30 minutes a game against the Phoenix Coyotes. Against Minnesota, Joel Quenneville was able to spread the minutes out among his six defenseman, with Keith leading the blueline averaging 23:21. With greater contributions from Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Nick Leddy, the minutes have distributed in a way that benefits corps as a whole.
For the first time in a very long time Nicklas Lidstrom is not patrolling the blueline for the Red Wings in the postseason. Stepping into his place has been Niklas Kronwall who, besides, you know, Kronwalling people, is playing the most minutes of his career in the playoffs (25:20). Detroit lost Danny DeKeyser early in their series with the Ducks due to a broken bone in his hand and Brian Lashoff and Carlo Colaiacovo have taken his place. The Red Wings allowed 21 goals in their 7 game series with the Ducks, most among remaining playoff teams.
Jimmy Howard faced an average of 32.1 shots per game against the Ducks. And with the Blackhawks averaging 33.8 shots per game, Howard's nights will continue to be busy. Seeing as how Jonas Gustavsson hasn't gotten into a game since March 31, the Red Wings will live and die with Howard's play.
Quenneville, however, has options in net. Corey Crawford was outstanding against the Wild, posting a 1.32 goals against average and .950 save-percentage. With Ray Emery now recovered from an injury, should Crawford falter, the Blackhawks can call on the netminder who went 17-1-0 during the regular season and still feel confident in the back.
Bryan Bickell had four goals in 15 career playoff games before this season. He netted three against the Wild. And is the Johan Franzen of old back? The 33-year old Swede posted 59 points between the 2008-2010 playoffs. Over the past two springs, he's managed just four points total in 13 playoff games. With three goals in the first round, which Franzen will we see against Chicago?
Coming off two straight first-round exits, Quenneville guided his team to its first Presidents' Trophy since 1991 and maneuvered his team through the 24-game point streak to dominate the regular season. What might have been a goaltending controversy in other cities was kept at bay and became one of Chicago's strengths this season. Mike Babcock, like Coach Q, has a Stanley Cup, but his job this season was a little tougher without Nicklas Lidstrom in the back and injuries to his lineup. Still, Babcock managed to guide Detroit to the playoffs for the 22nd straight season -- a pretty remarkable feat.
The Red Wings had the fourth-best power play in the opening round, capitalizing on six of their 24 attempts, while the Blackhawks were ninth with a 15.4 percent success rate. The battle between the Detroit PP and the Chicago penalty kill will be fun to watch seeing as how the Blackhawks killed off all 17 power plays the Minnesota Wild had in the first round. The Red Wings, meanwhile, were 13th with a 72 percent kill rate, allowing seven goals while down a man, most among the remaining eight teams.
FIGHT WE'D LIKE TO SEE
What better way to say goodbye than a good ole fashioned line brawl, like this one between the teams from the 1980s:
Blackhawks in 6. The Red Wings showed in the first round that they won't go without a fight, but from top to bottom the Blackhawks are deeper and have been more effective. Jimmy Howard is capable of stealing a game or two here, but in the end Chicago will provide too tall of a task.