The big question, of course is, if the Red Wings make it in, who will they play? As there are only three points separating fifth place from eighth place in the Western Conference, a multitude of scenarios exist.
Here are the six teams the Red Wings will most likely end up playing in the first round of the playoffs.
The Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks have squared off four times this season, with the Blackhawks taking all four meetings. Three of these meetings went to extra time, with Detroit twice losing in a shootout and once in overtime. The other game was a negligible 7-1 rout that Detroit showed hardly any emotion in, as a team.
Detroit could have easily taken two of the four meetings, with both of the games that Chicago won in a shootout coming about as a result of blown third-period leads with less than three minutes to go respectively.
As the Red Wings seem to not be going anywhere higher than eighth place (although this could change depending upon the play of the bottom seeds in the standings), the Red Wings look to have a date with the Blackhawks all but ensured if they do indeed qualify for the playoffs for a 22nd straight season.
The Red Wings have played the Blackhawks well this season, aside from the 7-1 smackdown in Hockeytown a few weeks back.
Detroit would need to continue to find their groove defensively to have any chance against Chicago in the playoffs.
In the last meeting (which the Red Wings almost won), the Red Wings successfully shut down and frustrated the Blackhawks for about 17 minutes in the third period before finally cracking and giving up the tying goal.
If the Red Wings played a "grind-it-out," hard-nosed series against Chicago, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Red Wings pull the upset.
The Detroit Red Wings always seem to play well against the Anaheim Ducks, with a 13-4-2 record against Anaheim since the start of the 2008-09 season.
Given, the Red Wings no longer have Nicklas Lidstrom or Brad Stuart on the blue line, but the Red Wings have beaten the Ducks in two out of three meetings this season. Both of Detroit's wins were on the road in Anaheim, and the Red Wings turned heads in those games, winning them by a combined score of 7-2.
As the Red Wings play in the Eastern Time Zone, this could again bring about time-change problems for the Red Wings, but after playing in the Western Conference since the early 1990s, the Red Wings are not going to be bothered too much by the time change.
Personally, I like this proposed playoff scenario. The Ducks seem to take dumb penalties against the Red Wings, due to the Red Wings frustrating them in all three zones of the ice.
Although the Red Wings would be the underdog in this likely "No. 2 seed vs. No. 7 seed" pairing, the Red Wings would be far from underdogs in this series.
The time change would make things difficult, but Detroit could take advantage of some inexperienced goaltending on the Anaheim side, as Jonas Hiller has just 13 playoff games under his belt, while Viktor Fasth has never appeared in the NHL playoffs.
The Vancouver Canucks are another matchup that I believe favors the Red Wings slightly. Although the Canucks did represent the Western Conference in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals (losing in Game 7), the Canucks are far from the team that they were in 2011.
The Red Wings still have one game left against the Canucks this season, but Detroit has outscored Vancouver by a combined score of 13-5 in the two previous affairs this season.
Vancouver's second-line center, Ryan Kesler, was inactive in the two losses to those Red Wings. Kesler is a game-changing player, and his play, along with the trade-deadline addition of Derek Roy, make Vancouver a legitimate threat in the West.
Nobody is really talking about Vancouver's goaltending, as it has been hot and cold as of late. But when the Canucks get good goaltending early in games, they gain confidence offensively as well. The Canucks have seven wins in their last 10 contests, making Detroit a perspective "sixth seed" if the Red Wings played them in the first round of the playoffs.
This would make Detroit jump two teams (which in the way that the San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues are playing, I would categorize as extremely unlikely), pulling the Red Wings into the sixth spot.
I like this series matchup, but it will be interesting to see if Kesler makes a difference in the final regular-season meeting between these two teams on Saturday.
If the Detroit Red Wings somehow made it to the fifth seed, they could play the Los Angeles Kings (or any number of teams).
I don't like this possible series at all in terms of how likely the Red Wings are to win the series.
The Red Wings have split a pair of games with the Kings this season (Detroit winning 3-2 and Los Angeles winning 2-1), but the Kings have been able to get to the Red Wings' net on numerous occasions. Detroit's inability to stop Kings' players from getting to the front of the net has been a cause for concern as Detroit gives up far too many second-chance opportunities.
Although on paper the Los Angeles Kings might be a fourth-seeded team (at least for the time being), they did win the Stanley Cup last year in dominant fashion and are returning almost the entire Cup-winning roster from last year.
Detroit would be at a true disadvantage against the Kings from a size perspective, making this the most difficult playoff series so far.
The Red Wings likely do not listen to much Dionne Warwick, but they most certainly "Know the Way to San Jose" due to playing the San Jose Sharks in back-to-back playoff seasons in 2010 and 2011.
The Sharks have always been a thorn in the Red Wings' side since coming into the league in the 1990s. Most of San Jose being a thorn in the side of the Red Wings has come about in the playoffs, but there is some animosity in the regular season.
As far as a 2013 playoff matchup is concerned, the Red Wings and Sharks would likely need to finish as fourth and fifth seeds for this possibility to arise. The Sharks do not look like they will catch the Anaheim Ducks (who are 10 points up on San Jose for the division title, while seven points up on Los Angeles) for the Pacific Division championship.
Bottom line for this series, the Red Wings should just be hoping not to have to go back to San Jose again in the near future. As much as revenge is a dish best served cold, the Red Wings need a team that they line up with well physically, and the Sharks are a much bigger team that gets to the net (like the Kings) on a very consistent basis against the Red Wings.
The Minnesota Wild can get hot in a hurry.
The Red Wings witnessed this on a first-hand basis this season. After knocking off the Wild, 5-3, in the first meeting this season, the Red Wings lost the next two games by a combined score of 7-4.
Both of the losses to the Wild were close games (3-2 and 4-2, respectively), but the Wild found a way to get goals when they needed them.
The big issue for the Wild is that CBC reported that Dany Heatley's season is over following shoulder surgery.
Matt Cullen is also out for the Wild, so there have been some chemistry issues on a team that is only 3-6-1 in their last 10 games.
This possible playoff series, however unlikely (Minnesota could win the division if it caught Vancouver, which would mean Detroit would need to get to the sixth spot to play them in the first round), would be an ideal situation for the Red Wings in the first round, as Detroit could focus on stopping offensive juggernauts, Devin Setoguchi, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.
When the regular season is done, the Red Wings can worry about who they will face in the first round of the playoffs.
Until then, there are no guarantees. Although the Red Wings playoff streak is in jeopardy, the Red Wings control their own destiny. The Red Wings haven't played well as a team defensively until just recently (and even then, sometimes the Red Wings test their luck by making Jimmy Howard come up with big saves).
The Red Wings played an excellent third period against the Chicago Blackhawks, following it up with a fairly good shutdown game against the Nashville Predators.
This team still has much progress to make before the end of the season, but with the team finally almost entirely healthy, the Red Wings are still a dangerous team that will have to be reckoned with if they qualify for the playoffs for the 22nd straight season.
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