The Detroit Red Wings' playoff streak was in danger of ending at 21 consecutive seasons this year, but the Wings closed the season strong, nabbed the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference and qualified for the postseason for the 22nd straight year.
That is the longest active streak in major American professional sports and it is a fantastic accomplishment, but the Red Wings won't rest on their laurels. They managed to overcome a slow start in a shortened season by making the playoffs; however, the Red Wings and their fans always expect a Stanley Cup victory.
It won't be an easy task as this has been a transitional season for Detroit. Future Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom retired during the offseason, and key forwards such as Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson have missed a large chunk of the season. Even so, the Red Wings have persevered.
In order to keep their Stanley Cup dreams alive, the Red Wings must defeat the Anaheim Ducks in the first round. Anaheim was near the top of the Western Conference all season long and ended up with the No. 2 seed. In fact, the Ducks were the third-best team during the regular season in terms of points behind only the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Red Wings have a winning tradition that is tough to overlook, though, so there is no doubt that it will be an exciting series. Keep reading to learn where and when to watch the Red Wings' entire first-round series as well as what you should keep an eye on throughout the series.
First Round Schedule
|1||Tuesday, April 30 at 10:30 p.m. ET||Honda Center in Anaheim||NBCSN|
|2||Thursday, May 2 at 10 p.m. ET||Honda Center in Anaheim||NBCSN|
Saturday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m. ET
|Joe Louis Arena in Detroit||NBCSN|
Monday, May 6 at 8 p.m. ET
|Joe Louis Arena in Detroit||CNBC|
Wednesday, May 8
|Honda Center in Anaheim||N/A|
Friday, May 10
|Joe Louis Arena in Detroit||N/A|
Sunday, May 12
|Honda Center in Anaheim||N/A
Regular-Season Record and Leaders
Goals Leader: Pavel Datsyuk (15)
Assists Leader: Henrik Zetterberg (37)
Wins Leader: Jimmy Howard (21)
Red Wings' Potential Lineup
Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Justin Abdelkader
Johan Franzen-Valtteri Filppula-Danny Cleary
Gustav Nyquist-Joakim Andersson-Damien Brunner
Patrick Eaves-Cory Emmerton-Jordin Tootoo
Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson
Kyle Quincey-Brendan Smith
Jakub Kindl-Dan DeKeyser
Jimmy Howard-Jonas Gustavsson
*Lineup courtesy of DailyFaceoff.com
Red Wings' First-Round Series Breakdown
Biggest Strength: Puck Possession
It is very difficult to keep track of puck possession and to measure its importance, but common sense states that the more teams have the puck, the more likely it is for them to score and the less likely it is for their opposition to score. Since the name of the game in hockey is to score more goals than the opponent, it's fair to say that possessing the puck is among the most integral aspects of the sport.
The Red Wings have understood that for quite some time and built their team accordingly. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are two of the best all-around players in the NHL and their best attribute may be puck possession. It seems like they have the puck on a string at times and it can be incredibly frustrating for opposing teams to chase them around.
In addition to Datsyuk and Zetterberg, Detroit has several big forwards who shield the puck with great effectiveness. Among them are Justin Abdelkader, Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula. The Ducks have some big forwards themselves such as Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry, but Detroit's head coach, Mike Babcock, makes puck possession an art. The Red Wings have honed their craft for quite some time and it will be a big part of their success in this series.
Biggest Weakness: Defensive Depth
The Red Wings have always been among the best defensive teams in hockey, and that is still somewhat true as they allowed the third-fewest goals in the Western Conference during the regular season. That stat has a lot more to do with offensive puck possession than defensive proficiency, however. The loss of Lidstrom was a big blow to Detroit and it left the Red Wings with some huge holes on the back line.
Niklas Kronwall has really stepped up and become a No. 1 guy in his absence, but there are major question marks after that. Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl and Dan DeKeyser are all fairly young defensemen with very little playoff experience. It seems odd because the Red Wings make the playoffs every season, but they have called on a lot of different players this season.
Those defensemen have grown significantly over the course of the season, but the playoffs are a different animal. Anaheim has a ton of offensive talent that will be difficult to tame, especially with the pressure of the playoffs looming large. The Red Wings can mask their defensive deficiencies with puck possession, but the defensemen will have to step up at some point.
Key Player: Jimmy Howard
For all the talk about the Red Wings' forwards possessing the puck and their defensemen standing tall, the true key player for Detroit in this series will be goaltender Jimmy Howard. The American goalie got off to a rough start this season and the Red Wings followed suit, but he turned things around and put up some solid numbers. Howard finished the year with 21 wins, a 2.13 goals against average, a .923 save percentage and five shutouts.
He built upon the career year he had in 2011-12 and allowed the Red Wings to steal a lot of games that they had no business winning. He will probably have to do that at least once or twice in the first round if Detroit is going to upset Anaheim. Teams with a hot goalie can do incredible things. The Los Angeles Kings proved that last season when they won the Cup behind goaltender Jonathan Quick as a No. 8 seed.
Perhaps it isn't fair to expect something similar out of the Red Wings, but Howard is playing at a Quick-esque level right now and the Red Wings have enough other pieces to contend. If Howard carries his regular-season play into the playoffs, Detroit definitely has a chance to make some noise.
How will this series play out?
The Ducks have been the better team all season long, but they have as many question marks as the Red Wings do. Anaheim has a fantastic first line and a productive second line due to the presence of the ageless Teemu Selanne, but they get very little offensive production elsewhere and their defense isn't exactly fleet of foot. The Red Wings should be able to use their big, fast forwards to their advantage.
Also, the Red Wings have a definitive starting goalie in Howard. The Ducks have two options in Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth. It can be argued that having two choices is an advantage, but it also means that changes could be made at the first sign of trouble. That is a good way to ruin the confidence of both netminders and ultimately ruin the confidence of the entire team.
These teams are evenly matched regardless of what their regular-season records suggest, so they could very well engage in one of the best series of the first round. The Red Wings are definitely the underdogs; however, the Ducks are more vulnerable than most No. 2 seeds generally are. With that in mind, the Red Wings will shock the Ducks and keep their season going by beating them in seven games.
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