After a very "un-Red Wing-like" season, the team was able to regroup over the final week of the season. They turned it around and played more like the team we are used to seeing which vaulted them up to the seventh spot in the playoffs.
While you never want to take a playoff team lightly, the team did dodge a bullet by avoiding a first-round matchup with the red hot Chicago Blackhawks. The Anaheim Ducks will not be a push over but, if the Detroit Red Wings can continue their play of the last week, then their chances look better than they did a week ago.
While it takes a team effort to advance in the playoffs, there are certain players that a team relies on more than others. If they step up, then the chances of success are much greater. If they do not, then another first-round exit is more likely.
Often a team’s success in the playoffs comes down to the goalie. Many times, a team has been able to ride a hot goalie deep into the playoffs.
Jimmy Howard has put together an impressive April. He has 1.43 goals against average with a .942 save percentage for the month. Over the final seven games, he was able to improve on those already impressive stats as he posted three shutouts, a .99 GAA and .953 save percentage.
It might be a bit much to hope for a sub-1.0 GAA in the playoffs, but his numbers for all of April would certainly bode well for the team.
Pavel Datsyuk is one of the most talented players in the league. As great as he is, the one knock on him is that he does not score as much as he is capable of. While it is great that he is willing to set up teammates, at times, he passes too much.
When he gets into his pass-first mode, he becomes easier to defend and less of a threat on the ice. When he puts more of a focus on shooting, it makes him more dangerous and opens up the ice even more for his teammates. He ends up scoring more and creating more opportunities for his teammates.
Over the final week of the season, with the team needing every win to secure a playoff spot, he rose to the occasion. He scored two goals and had six assists over the final three games.
In the first 37 games of the season, he only had six games where he had four or more shots on goal. Over the final 11 games, he hit that mark in five games. It is no coincidence that over the final four games of the season, the team scored at least three goals in each game. They had not accomplished that in three straight games, let alone four this season.
If he continues with his aggressive offensive push, then the team should be able to mount a stronger offense than they did for most of the season.
Niklas Kronwall will be leading the defense into their first playoffs since Nick Lidstrom retired.
He not only needs to play at a high level, he also needs to lead a group of young players who will be making their first playoff appearance.
Brian Lashoff has played in 31 games, and Danny Dekeyser has played in only 11. Brandon Smith is the veteran of the three with 48 games for his career. Lashoff and Smith have had spells where they have played very good, and they have also spent games as healthy scratches.
Kronwall must lead this young bunch, along with help from the rest of the defensive unit, through their first playoff season.
Over the previous two seasons, he has taken on a larger on-ice roll during the playoffs. This will be a test of his leadership off the ice now.
Johan Franzen will need to recapture his former self. There was a time when the playoffs meant Franzen time. Over the three playoff seasons from 2008-10, he averaged 1.15 points per game. Over the past two playoff seasons, he only has four points total, dropping that per game number to .30.
The team has gone through several stretches when they struggled to score. In the playoffs, it is usually even more difficult to score which is why a more explosive Franzen will be needed.
Now some might expect to see Henrik Zetterberg or Valtteri Filppula in this final spot, but it goes to Damien Brunner. While they will be important to the team’s success, Brunner can add another dimension to the team as an addition to what the other two already offer.
Brunner is in his first season in the NHL. He started off playing very well with 10 goals and six assists in his first 19 games. He then went 15 games without scoring a goal. Over the final month of the season, he added two goals and three assists. While not near his early-season pace, it is good to see him showing signs of life again.
He is only on a one-year deal. While his early-season effort started to raise his asking price, his midseason nosedive greatly hurt him. Now, he has a chance to help his team and his wallet.
If he can come anywhere near his early-season scoring pace, the team will be in good shape, and he will play himself into a better contract. There is nothing more motivating then the chance of a big payday.