Tonight is the seventh game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks this season. The Hawks lead the series 4-2 with wins with wins October 6th (4-3 SO), October 12th (3-2), November 11th (3-2), and November 17th (5-3). The Wings won the last two meetings, 3-1 on January 6th, and 3-1 again on March 11th. The teams meet again on Sunday in Detroit for the final game of the season.
Chicago posted an 8-5-2 record in March, finishing the month with a pair of wins. They were 4-2-1 in the second half of March after a rough start in which they lost four in a row following a three-game winning streak to start.
The Hawks stand in 11th place in the West, five points out of the playoffs with just three games remaining. They can max out at 90 points, which would be enough to sneak into the playoffs if Nashville (89) and Vancouver (88) lose their remaining games (two each). They can pass Edmonton, whose playoff hopes ended last night when they fell in regulation to Calgary. With 86 points and just one remaining game, the Oilers can't make up the difference.
The Hawks are led in scoring by Patrick Kane, who has posted 66 points in his first NHL season. Patrick Sharp is the second-highest scoring Chicago player with 60 points. His 36 goals are a team high. Former Red Wing Robert Lang has 20 goals and 53 points.
Chicago will be without Martin Havlat (shoulder) and Ben Eager (shoulder). Dave Bollard (sore ankle) and former Red Wing Jason Williams (charley horse) missed practice yesterday, but could play tonight. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that it will be a game-time decision.
The Sun Times also reports that Nikolai Khabibulin will start tonight.
For the Blackhawks side of things, see the excellent The Third Man In.
The Wings went 10-2-1 in March, with their two regulation losses coming together on the 15th and 16th. They began the month 5-0-0, lost two, and finished with a 4-0-1 run.
Detroit sits atop the NHL standings with a 52-20-7 record and 111 points. The San Jose Sharks are just three points back with two games remaining. However, as long as the Wings earn at least one point in one of their three remaining games, they will clinch 1st place overall.
If the playoffs started today, the Wings would face Nashville, who just moved into 8th after beating St. Louis in overtime last night.
The Wings are led offensively by Pavel Datsyuk (94 points) and Henrik Zetterberg (90 points), but the hot hand of late has been Johan Franzen. He has 14 goals and 18 points in his last 13 games, which earned him the NHL's Third Star for the month of March.
Detroit will be without Kris Draper (groin) tonight. He suffered a recurrence yesterday of a groin injury that kept him out of five games last month.
Mikael Samuelsson (groin) will miss his third consecutive game and does not appear close to returning.
Brad Stuart (broken finger) remains out, but should return for the start of the playoffs next week.
Tomas Holmstrom (abdomen) may return tonight depending on how he feels during the morning skate, but it is more likely he'll be back tomorrow night against Nashville.
Projected lines (via MacLeod):
As pointed out by Ansar Khan yesterday, we can probably expect to see the Eurotwins split up when the team is on the road. That makes it more difficult for the opposition to defend against them despite the fact that they have the last change.
Dominik Hasek will start tonight.
This is an important game for the Blackhawks, who need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Wings have to find motivation to play hard tonight, despite the fact that they need just a point in their final three to clinch the top seed. The simple fact that staying sharp before the playoffs means an easier transition to post-season play ought to be motivation enough. As a veteran group, I would hope that there won't be a problem with concentration and effort tonight.
There may be some bumps in the road, though, with the team's best faceoff man, Kris Draper (58.6%), out of the lineup. The Hawks have some pretty good faceoff men in Yanic Perrault (64.3%), Jonathan Toews (53.6%) and, yes, Robert Lang (53%).