#7 Columbus Blue Jackets: 41-31-10, 92 pts
#2 Detroit Red Wings: 51-21-10, 112 pts.
The Blue Jackets are 3-3-4 in their last 10 games while the Wings are 3-6-1. Neither team has been all that hot lately and played some lackluster hockey. Then again, there was little motivation for both teams to play their hearts out with playoff spots secured and the potential to lose a star or role player with little to gain in the last week of the season.
But with the playoffs kicking off, expect both teams to come out ready to play. The key to the game will be the Wings' ability to control the puck. If they are able to control the puck, they are usually able to impose their will on opponents by way of superb passing. If Columbus can close out the passing and shooting lanes, they have the ability to disrupt the gameplan.
Columbus has a big defense (averaging over 6'2 and 215 lbs) and could use that to control the positioning of the Detroit forwards. However, the Detroit forwards are fast and are skilled at taking the puck into the offensive zone without support.
Chris Osgood (Detroit) and Steve Mason (Columbus) are the starters in goal tonight and likely throughout the duration of the series.
What to look for: Columbus goalie Steve Mason leads the league in shutouts (10) and is second in goals against average (2.29) and is a likely a lock for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie. If the Wings are able to take Mason off his game and out of his comfort zone, it will be with both Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen in front of the net. Both are good at disrupting the vision of goalies and incredibly good at altering the path of a shot a the last second. Look for the Wings to pepper Mason with shots and try to set the series tone early in the game.
The series starts with Game 1 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit at 7:00 PM ET. Game 1 will be shown on Versus and TSN, depending on location and as always, GO WINGS!