5 Crucial X-Factors for Detroit Red Wings in 2013-14 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Daniel Williams@@dwill3Contributor IIIApril 17, 2014

5 Crucial X-Factors for Detroit Red Wings in 2013-14 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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    Bill Smith/Getty Images

    It’s that wonderful time of year in Hockeytown when snow falls in April and the Detroit Red Wings take the ice for playoff hockey.

    For the 23rd straight season, the Wings will suit up for hockey’s second season, this time as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference—their lowest finish during the streak.

    The No. 8 associated with the Wings' playoff seed is just a number to Detroit as it prepares to make its 23rd appearance a special one. The Red Wings have stabilized recently, balancing their veteran leadership with a newfound abundance of youth.

    With veteran guidance comes experience, savvy and the drive to return Detroit to its former glory. Its youth brings confidence, energy and the ambition to see their names engraved next to the champions of yore.

    For Detroit, there are a number of players who will need to contribute in multiple facets. Pavel Datsyuk, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar will be significant figures in Detroit’s first-round series against Boston, but five others will need to step up if Detroit is to survive.

    Hockey kicks up to a higher level come playoff time. No lead is safe and no victory comes hollow. Players define themselves as heroes or goats, and the fate of a season can change in mere seconds.

    These five players are key to the team’s system, and their intangibles can be the facilitators for an opening-round upset.

Jimmy Howard

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    Chris Carlson

    In 2013, Jimmy Howard came one deflected shot in overtime away from eliminating the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference semifinals.

    His 2013-14 regular-season campaign could arguably be considered a setback, as he posted the second-worst statistical season of his career. Those numbers have been erased, however, and Howard starts with a clean slate come Friday’s Game 1.

    Howard posted a 2.44 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in last year’s playoffs—the best of his career. Detroit will need even better from him against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Boston Bruins.

    In two meetings against the Bruins this season, he went 1-1 with a 3.00 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage.

    Howard did finish the regular season strong, going 4-1-0 while posting a 2.00 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. If he is turning the corner, it is at just the right time.

    Detroit’s strength lies up front, so work on the back end will be busy, and consistency carries a significant value. Howard has been the workhorse in Detroit since becoming the starter in 2009-10, so his experience will be a factor.

    If Howard can right the ship and bring his A-game to Beantown, then an upset could be brewing.

Dan DeKeyser

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    Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    Dan DeKeyser has quietly been Detroit’s most reliable defender this season.

    He was expected to be a big part of Detroit’s postseason in 2013 before suffering a broken thumb in Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals against the Anaheim Ducks.

    This season, he’ll see an exorbitant amount of ice time while also playing a significant role on the penalty kill. He played more than 20 minutes in his first playoff appearance last year and 16:15 in Game 2 before suffering his injury.

    He plays a steady, reliable defensive game that makes him a good fit with any defensive partner on the roster. With Niklas Kronwall and Brendan Smith developing a rapport, DeKeyser can line up with anyone.

    He has experience playing in all phases of the game, and coach Mike Babcock will not hesitate to use him as such.

    He finished with four goals and 23 points and led all Detroit blueliners at plus-10. He was second on the team in average time on ice with 21:38, trailing only Kronwall (24:18).

    At 24 years old, he is quickly becoming one of the franchise’s most valuable assets. He certainly would’ve been a difference-maker had he played against Chicago in 2013.

    This year, he’ll get the opportunity to make up for lost time.

Johan Franzen

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    Alongside Jimmy Howard, Detroit absolutely needs Johan Franzen to return to his past playoff form.

    Franzen finished the regular season with 16 goals and 41 points in 54 games, but his numbers came in his notoriously streaky fashion.

    From Nov. 12-Dec. 10, Franzen totaled 17 points over 14 games (seven goals, 10 assists). That streak totaled 41 percent of his season total.

    In last year’s playoffs, he posted just four goals and six points in 14 games, with five of those points coming in Detroit’s seven wins. Franzen did not register a point in any of the four losses to Chicago and finished minus-seven overall.

    He only totaled one point in Detroit’s five-game quarterfinals loss to the Nashville Predators in 2012.

    The offense appears to live and die with Franzen, but with the return of Pavel Datsyuk and the emergence of Gustav Nyquist, the pressure is reduced. Head coach Mike Babcock told Ansar Khan of MLive.com:

    "I think it’s the Mule’s time of year. We need him to really dig in and get to the next level for us and just continue to shoot the puck and play with grit and determination, be on the puck."

    His reputation stems from three consecutive postseasons from 2008-2010 in which he amassed 59 points in 51 games (31 goals, 28 assists). Since then, he has just 10 points in 27 playoff games (seven goals, three assists) and a minus-nine rating.

    Perhaps Franzen is due to bounce back, but it’s clear he needs to factor in the offense if Detroit is going to advance past the first round.

Darren Helm

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    Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    The Detroit Red Wings can finally pencil Darren Helm into the starting lineup for a playoff game.

    Helm hasn’t suited up for the postseason since Game 1 of the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals against the Nashville Predators.

    In that game, Helm suffered lacerated tendons in his forearm when he was cut by Alexander Radulov’s skate late in the first period.

    His value in the lineup is immeasurable. His speed is dangerous on offense and his responsibility defensively makes him a tremendous postseason contributor.

    He’s an outstanding competitor with the kind of work ethic necessary for Detroit to compete with a team like Boston.

    Helm is finally healthy and ready to wreak havoc on the NHL’s best team. He doesn’t have significant point totals in his career but has made some clutch plays in his time.

    He brings a ton of energy and plays his role efficiently and consistently. With the added depth at center, Detroit will be able to play four lines deep in most situations.

    As long as Helm remains healthy, Detroit will be a tough out.

David Legwand

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Detroit’s acquisition of David Legwand was one that flew under the radar on the March 5 trade deadline, but its significance is evident.

    Legwand has provided Detroit with valuable depth at center. Along with Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm and Riley Sheahan, he will be a quality player down the middle.

    When it was determined Stephen Weiss would not return after suffering a setback following sports hernia surgery, another center was required if Detroit was to make the playoffs. Legwand was acquired, and he has answered the bell.

    In 21 games with the Red Wings, he has four goals—two game-winners—and 11 points. Should Henrik Zetterberg return at some point this series, Detroit has plenty of options to maximize their roster potential.

    After spending his first 13 seasons with the Nashville Predators, Legwand has seven years of playoff experience, although he's only advanced to the second round twice.

    Detroit traded for the 33-year-old to add depth, grit and to help the club earn a postseason berth. Now it will be up to him to help make Detroit a dangerous lower seed this year.

    He has played on both a scoring line and in a supporting role, showing his versatility while adding a physical element.

    He brings the right style for postseason hockey, and Detroit is going to need everything he can give.