In the final week of the season, there was a 3 out of 5 chance that the Red Wings would have a first round matchup with a fellow Central Division team. With the regular season closing on Sunday, the Detroit Red Wings found out that their opponent would be the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Season series: The Red Wings and Blue Jackets split the season 3-3, with each team winning two at home and one on the road. Despite an 8-2 win by Columbus in Detroit on March 7, the Red Wings hold a one goal advantage in the scoring column, 18-17 in the six games. Detroit also holds an advantage in the shooting column with 70 more shots on goal than Columbus in the series.
Three Key Players to Columbus Success
Rick Nash, LW- The Columbus Captain has made a living against the Red Wings in recent history. He's scored a hat trick twice against the Wings this season and three times in his career. Nash has 37 points in 38 career games against the Red Wings. The 6'4" left winger has showed the league that his initial label of "grinder" was inaccurate and has displayed great hands in his six year career, averaging 32 goals a year during that span. In short, Nash is a playmaker and can put the Blue Jackets on his back and make incredible individual plays. His size makes him a formidable defender and his hands make him a great passer and scorer for the Blue Jackets.
Steve Mason, G- Probably one of the biggest reasons for the success of the Blue Jackets this year is this guy. The 6'4" netminder has a 3-2 record against the Red Wings this year and is second in the league in GAA behind Tim Thomas of Boston. Mason carries a 33-20-7 record into the playoffs, with 10 shutouts (tops in the league) and a .916 Save Percentage. All of these incredible numbers come as he closes out his rookie year. Once again, his rookie year. Mason has quick lateral movement across the goal mouth and a fast glovehand but at times is slow dropping down to the ice and is vulnerable high stick side. When he's on, he's on and it will be hard for the Wings to put anything past him.
Mike Commodore, D- The big defenseman is one of the more experienced players on the team and is the only one with a Stanley Cup ring (by way of the Hurricanes' win). Commodore has great size at 6'5, 228 lbs and isn't afraid of using his body on defense; racking up 200+ hits and 162 blocked shots. Commodore isn't a huge threat offensively but is a big time defender and can disrupt a gameplan from the drop of the puck.
Team "X-Factor": Inexperience. Out of 29 Columbus players, 16 have had playoff experience and the majority of the experience has been limited (1 round, 2 rounds). Detroit has a roster in which every single player has NHL playoff experience but Jonathan Ericsson.
Three Key Players to Detroit Success
Marian Hossa, RW- Marian Hossa is one of the elite playmakers and scorers in the league and showed the league again in his first season in Hockeytown. Hossa tallied 40 G, 31 A for 71 pts in 74 games played this year for the Wings. Hossa has missed some games this season due to injury but still turned in a stellar performance. Hossa has incredible speed for his size and is very difficult to take off the puck and will even drag defenders to the net with him. Not only does he possess sniper shooting skills, he makes smart and crisp passes while also contributing a great amount on the defensive side of the puck (+27 this year). After coming so close last year, he will have the most drive of anyone to get back to the Finals and try and win it this time around.
Tomas Holmstrom, LW- Holmstrom is known league wide as a pest in front of the goal. If he's a pest, he's a very talented one. Although bothered by injuries this year, Holmstrom was still able to score half as many goals as his career high in 24 fewer games. What doesn't show up in the stats is the presence he has in front of the net. Holmstrom is a big part of the Detroit game plan and is often able to get the opposing goaltender frustrated, causing him to lose focus. Holmstrom is also the best in the league at deflecting shots on their way through from the blue line and could cause problems for Steve Mason.
Chris Osgood, G- At times, Osgood has looked like the guy that replaced future Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek in the postseason last year. Other times, he has looked like he's stepping into the crease for the first time. Osgood has 26-9-8 record this season with a 3.09 GAA and a .887 Save Percentage. His numbers aren't stellar but his best performances have usually come in the playoffs. If he returns to the same form of play as last year, there's no stopping the Red Wings.
Team "X-Factor": Goaltending.Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin have been the subject of much debate throughout the year for many Wings fans and NHL analysts. As mentioned earlier, Osgood has struggled with consistency at times this season and that could be a big factor for the playoffs. Osgood may play every game this postseason. Or, Ty Conklin could be called upon to replace him in net.
The Red Wings have struggled with goaltending issues but it may not be a factor. The highest scoring team in the league has peppered Mason all year long (173 shots on goal) and can capitalize on the penalty prone Blue Jackets. The biggest matchup in the series could very well be Tomas Holmstrom vs. Steve Mason. If Holmstrom is allowed by the Columbus defense to stay in front of Mason, he could throw off his focus and change the way he plays.
Columbus is appearing in its first playoff series as a franchise and inexperience for the majority of the team could be a negative factor. On the upside, they have everything to play for in the series and could post a big first round upset against the defending Champions. In the end though, Detroit has the advantage over Columbus in nearly every department. Ken Hitchcock is a great coach but Mike Babcock has more to work with and should be able to guide the Red Wings to the second round.