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Why the Detroit Red Wings Must Beat the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IMarch 7, 2010

DETROIT - MAY 27:  Henrik Zetterberg #40 of the Detroit Red Wings passes the puck against Andrew Ladd #16 of the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Five of the Western Conference Championship Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 27, 2009 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. The Red Wings won 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It's funny just how recently it was that the Red Wings main concern in March was whether or not they would finish the season first in the West and President's Trophy winners and the Blackhawks' preoccupation was finding a way to stay in the playoff picture.

Well, maybe it isn't funny.

Yeah, "depressing" is probably more appropriate.

As Detroit maintains a very tenuous grasp on the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, the Blackhawks sit atop the Western Conference standings and are just three points behind Washington for first overall.

Talk about role reversal.

When this historic rivalry renews itself on Sunday, the Red Wings will have more than one reason to play like it's 2008.

First, and this actually applies to both sides, pride is on the line.

The "big brother/little brother" relationship that has existed between the Wings and Hawks, respectively, over the past few seasons is still in effect.

However, "little brother" is getting bigger, stronger and smarter and is learning to enjoy kicking the crap out of "big brother" on a regular basis.

While the Red Wings want to show the Blackhawks that they're not quite ready to set up permanent residence in the Central Division basement, a spot occupied by the Blackhawks for the better part of the last decade, the Hawks still count a win against Detroit as a particularly nice looking feather in their, well, head-dress.

The Wings pose no threat to the Hawks from a standings perspective, so the points the Hawks would gain from a win, while important, aren't all that crucial.

However, for the Wings, these points are as valuable as air is to a drowning man.

Two teams that trail the Red Wings, Calgary and Minnesota, will also be squaring off against each other on Sunday.

Calgary is just one point behind Detroit, and Minnesota is a safer, five points back of the eighth seeded Wings.

A Calgary win and a Detroit loss would result in Detroit being knocked back to ninth in the West.

Worst yet, were Calgary to win in over time and create the dreaded "three point game", they'd not only leap-frog Detroit in the standings, but draw Minnesota to within four points of Detroit, making the Western Conference basement even more cramped than it is.

Added to all of this, Detroit's next two opponents are, you guessed it, Calgary and Minnesota.

These games, as every one left remaining on the Wings' schedule, will be critically important to their playoff hopes.

But, having to face Calgary while looking up at them in the standings or Minnesota breathing down their necks is pressure the Wings would just as soon not add at this point in the season.

The trick to avoiding this situation is simple: beat the Hawks on Sunday.

They clearly can't control the outcome of the Calgary/Minnesota game, but they can control how much of an impact the result of that game will have on their position in the standings.

So, in this way, it's not just the two points the Wings have to gain that's important, but, the timing at which they gain them.

While the Red Wings task is simple, it will be anything but easy.

The Hawks have beaten the Wings in three-straight games this season and just chased 2010 Olympic gold-medal winning goalie, Roberto Luongo out of the net on Friday night.

The Hawks are as tough as they come and Detroit will need to play one of their best games of the season to beat them.

Additionally, as the Hawks may very well finish first in the West and the Wings may enter at number eight, this might be a first-round preview.

What better time than now to show the Hawks what they'll be in for should this turn out to be the case?

If the big brothers can shove the little brothers back over to the kids' table on Sunday, they'd not only put themselves in a much better position moving forward, they could help to set the tone should the two end up sitting across each other at the playoff table.

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