Morning Skate: Playoff Tune-up

Nothing like ending your regular season and preparing for the playoffs by playing your oldest and most hated rival. The Wings and Blackhawks face off for the 6th and final time this season and although it's mathematically impossible for the teams to play each other in the first round, a second round match-up is possible.

 

  • Coach Mike Babcock has apparently decided to keep whoever he's starting under wraps for now. With a three position swing in terms of the Western Conference playoffs on the line against Chicago, I'd expect Jimmy Howard.
  • Another reason to start Howard is to get him ready and geared up for the playoffs. Chicago has one of the best (if not the best) offenses in the NHL and getting Howard into the game and facing quality chances and shots could do a lot for him in the playoffs.
  • If Detroit wins, they clinch 5th seed and play Phoenix. LA can vault Detroit and Nashville with a win over Colorado (who's cemented to the 8th seed) and push Detroit as low as 7th seed. However, Detroit would have to lose today's game which would give Chicago the 2 points necessary to take over 1st in the West.
  • Today will be another look into the Chicago goaltending situation. It's no secret that the Blackhawks have struggled to find consistency in net this year between Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi. Niemi would be the better choice in the playoffs given his play this season and ability to shake off a bad performance. With Huet, it seems that he gets more rattled by goals and just flat out gives them up more.
  • Patrick Kane, love him or hate him, is the best player Chicago has. For his age, it's pretty remarkable what he does night in and night out. Kane leads the Blackhawks in goals (30) and assists (57) and is a threat to score every time he's on the ice.
  • Marian Hossa is still listed as day to day (last I checked at least) following a big hit the other night. My guess would be that Hossa sits tonight to make sure that he's fully healthy for the first round of the playoffs.Brian Campbell is still out following the Ovechkin hit into the boards and probably won't be back until the second round of the playoffs.
  • Duncan Keith has legs made of some type of metal alloy I think. The guy skates 26 minutes a night on average and has an average shift length of 54 seconds. Both of those numbers are 3rd best (?) in the NHL and is one of the biggest pluses the Chicago defense has.
  • How about some Johan time? The Mule has been held out of the goal column for the past five games. It's a good thing he's develop into a good passer in addition to his shooting because he is getting the puck a lot in open space but has deferred to teammates with a better chance. If Johan ramps it up today, the playoffs need to be ready because he will play his ass off.
  • Also, out in the East there's a pretty big showdown between the Rangers and Flyers. The winner of the game goes on to the playoffs as the 8th seed while the loser....doesn't lose that much because they don't have to play the Caps at least.
  • James Tiberius Howard was solid against Columbus. Although the Wednesday game wasn't exactly his best, Howard has shown that he's capable of carrying a team when the offense struggles (see: Columbus, Friday 1-0 shootout win). A lot of people make the case that he has no playoff experience in the NHL. Patrick Roy was also a rookie when he lead the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe.
Enjoy the game folks. We'll have a VERY in-depth playoff preview up as soon as the pairings are decided. 
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