There is nothing more exciting than Stanley Cup hockey, especially when it happens to be a series between long-time rivals such as Detroit and Chicago.
The Red Wings sneaked into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference after winning their last four regular season games. Chicago rolled through the 48-game schedule with the most points in the NHL to earn the No. 1 seed in the West.
All of that does not really matter now as these two prepare to square off in the best-of-seven conference semifinals starting this Wednesday night with Game 1 in Chicago.
Initially paired against the second-best team in the West, the Red Wings started these playoffs with a 3-1 loss to Anaheim as +125 road underdogs. After earning a split on the road, they were hammered 4-0 at home as -127 favorites to fall into an early 1-2 hole.
Behind a rejuvenated offense that only managed an average of 2.5 goals a game during the season, Detroit went on to win three of the next four contests, including a thrilling 3-2 victory in Game 7 as a +126 road underdog to advance to the next round.
Chicago faced the No. 8 Minnesota Wild in the opening round. After pounding out two victories at home by a combined score of 7-3 to gain the early 2-0 edge, the Blackhawks were stunned 2-1 in overtime in Game 3 on the road as -155 favorites. That was the wake up call this team needed as it outscored the Wild 8-1 in the next two games to end this series in five games.
BetOnline has set the series price on Detroit at +265 for this showdown—with the Blackhawks a prohibitive -315 favorite—but you always have to remember that anything can happen in a matchup between two teams that know each other so well.
The Red Wings win if...
As mentioned, the Red Wings would never be considered an offensive juggernaut, but against the Ducks it was Henrik Zetterberg that turned in a spectacular performance with three goals and five assists.
Regular season points leader Pavel Datsyuk (15 goals and 34 assists) also came up big with two goals and five assists. The Red Wings had six different players with two or more goals overall.
They will not have the luxury of sitting back and trying to play defense against Chicago so they are going to have to continue to find ways to score goals to have any shot at winning this series.
Jimmy Howard went the distance in goal in the seven games against Anaheim and posted a goals-against average of 2.74, which will not get it done against a potent offense like that of the Blackhawks.
He will need to tighten things up to return to the form that resulted in a 2.13 GAA in 42 regular-season games. He faced an average of 32 shots a game in the opening series, so at the very least he comes in prepared to face an onslaught of shots in the semifinals.
The Blackhawks win if...
Chicago has been the best team in the NHL since opening day and proved it by gaining at least a point in the first 24 games of the season. The Blackhawks did not always look as solid down the stretch, but in the end they posted 77 points with a record of 36-7-5 that was basically evenly split at home and on the road.
Simply put, if they play to their potential, they will move on to the conference finals.
Offensively, Chicago scored an average of 3.1 goals per game during the season, which was the second-highest total in the league. The trio of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa accounted for a combined 63 goals, but it has been all Patrick Sharp in the playoffs with five goals against the Wild. This kind of firepower will be extremely hard to contain over the course of a seven-game series.
Making this team even more deadly is the fact that it was ranked first in goals allowed with a GAA of 2.00.
The Blackhawks had the luxury of having two quality goaltenders who each finished the regular season with a GAA under two and a save percentage higher than .920. Ray Emery has been dealing with a back injury so it has been all Corey Crawford so far in goal. He stopped 132 of the 139 shots he faced in his first five playoff games to post a .950 save percentage and a 1.32 GAA. If he continues to play at this level, the high series price on Chicago is worth the risk.
Series Betting Trends
The Red Wings are 8-3 in their last 11 games but just 3-9 in their last 12 games against divisional opponents. The total has stayed “under” in six of their last 10 road games.
The Blackhawks are 41-12 in their last 53 Central Division games and 40-17 in their last 57 games following a win. The total has stayed under in seven of their last 10 divisional games.
Head-to-head in this matchup, the road team is 14-6 in the last 20 meetings and the total has stayed under in 18 of the last 26 games between the two. Chicago brings a seven-game winning streak over the Red Wings into this series, but four of the last five games were decided in overtime.