Morning Skate: Opportunity Knocks

Hockey is a game of opportunities. If you get a chance, you have to capitalize on it and take advantage of your situation because the opportunity might not come your way again.

Today the Red Wings have an opportunity to reclaim sole possession of the Central Division and take over the best record in the West and the NHL. Last night, American Hero and Michigan native Ryan Miller, along with the corpse of Ville Leino, helped take down the West leading Vancouver Canucks. It's not ever day the Canucks lose at home to a team so far down in the standings. The loss kept the Wings one point back of the Canucks and Detroit has a game-in-hand which will be played today. The Wings need to grab hold of the opportunity to take the top seed once again.

Detroit will be without the services of Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk. Last game was about the kids taking advantage of their opportunity and we saw that happen. Brendan Smith scored his first career NHL goal. Kyle Quincey was a plus-3. Jakub Kindl didn't play too bad either. The Flip and Hank took advantage of the chance to play a bad Minnesota Wild team and skated away with three points each. The opportunity is there to do that again today.

The Blackhawks are by no means the Wild though. They're 6-4-0 in their last 10 games and have won two straight. The Wings have a habit of making their goalies look a whole hell of a lot better than they normally are too. The Hawks will be without captain Jonathan Toews and second pair defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Regardless of who is or isn't on the ice, Chicago is a team that will always play the Wings tough. As mentioned above, a win for the Wings will vault them back in to first in the West (and first in the NHL depending the outcome of the Bruins/Rangers game). It will also crush just about any slim hope the Hawks had of getting back into the division race.

It's all right there in front of the Wings for the taking. They know what's on the line. The race for the playoff continues today at the Joe. Every point matters. Opportunity is knocking and it's time to once again answer the door this afternoon.

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Second City Hockey is your SBNation Blackhawks blog.

Puck drop is just after 4p ET on Fox Sports Detroit and NHL Network for us out-of-town folk.

The Expected Lineup

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Valtteri Filppula -- Henrik Zetterberg -- Jiri Hudler

Danny Cleary -- Justin Abdelkader -- Todd Bertuzzi

Johan Franzen -- Darren Helm -- Drew Miller

Jan Mursak -- Cory Emmerton -- Tomas Holmstrom

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Niklas Kronwall -- Brad Stuart

Kyle Quincey -- Ian White

Brendan Smith -- Jakub Kindl

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Jimmy Howard (starting)

Joey MacDonald

Todd Bertuzzi is a game-time decision today. He'll likely take warm ups and play if he can. If he can't go, Chris Conner was called up from the Grand Rapid Griffins last night and will take his place in the lineup. Conner needs to take hold of the opportunity to play if he gets the chance.

Injuries: Patrick Eaves (concussion), Jonathan Ericsson (wrist), Pavel Datsyuk (knee) and Nicklas Lidstrom (ankle)

BLACKHAWKS HOW THEY MATCH UP RED WINGS
35-24-7 (77 pts; 6th in West) Record 43-19-3 (89 pts; 3rd in NHL)
2.97 (6th in NHL) Goals Per Game 3.09 (4th in NHL)
2.89 (22nd) Goals Against Per Game 2.29 (5th)
16.1% (23rd) Power Play % 17.1% (15th)
77.8% (27th) Penalty Kill % 82.3% (16th)
Jonathan Toews (29 goals) Goal Leader Johan Franzen (24 goals)
Marian Hossa (63 points) Points Leader Pavel Datsyuk (59 points)

  • The Red Wings are 363-263-84-9 (W-L-T-OTL) all-time against the Chicago Blackhawks franchise.
  • Each team has two wins in the season series. Both of Detroit's wins were 3-2 overtime victories. The Hawks won the first match up of the season 3-2 and the last match up 2-1. The final two games of the season series are at the Joe.
  • Ray Emery is expected to get the start today for the Hawks. He's 2-0-0 in his career against the Wings with a 2.23 GAA and .938 SV%. Meanwhile, Jimmy Howard is a less than impressive 4-6-1 against the Hawks with a 2.97 GAA and .901 SV%.
  • Val Filppula leads the Wings against the Hawks this season with 4 points (2G, 2A). Pavel Datsyuk and Todd Bertuzzi both have 3 points versus Chicago this season.
  • Chicago, I see your Patrick Kane two goals in last three games and I raise you a Henrik Zetterberg eight points in last three games (2G, 6A). And while we're at it, Flip's seven points in his last three games (4G, 3A). Anything you can do, we can do better.

Prediction: On the podcast, I said 6 points this week for the Wings and two shutouts for Jimmy. Well, 4 points and 1 shutout down, 2 points and another shutout to go. I can't go against my word, now can I? Jimmy Howard loves opportunities and he will take advantage of them today. He improves his record against the Hawks and completely shuts the door for his first career shutout against Chicago. It's going to be The Jimmy Show today featuring Brendan Smith and Filppula and Zetterberg. The final score will be 3-0 and Jimmy will be your player of the game.

Let's Go Red Wings.

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