With their 3-2 win in Sunday night’s Game Seven in Anaheim, the Detroit Red Wings will advance to meet the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the playoffs.
With Detroit moving to the Eastern Conference next season, this battle between two Original Six rivals will be emotional for fans. But what will the series look like on the ice?
During the regular season, Chicago swept Detroit behind stellar goaltending from Corey Crawford. Three of the four games between these two rivals required extra hockey, with the fourth game a Chicago blowout. Crawford allowed only five goals in the four games against the Red Wings, posting a .960 save percentage.
Those five goals were scored by only three Red Wings: Johan Franzen (two), Cory Emmerton (two) and Tomas Tatar (one). Tatar hasn’t skated for Detroit in the postseason, and Emmerton was scratched for Game Seven after registering a minus-four rating with zero points in the first six games of the series.
Offensively, four different Blackhawks had two goals against Detroit during the regular season. Jonathan Toews, Dave Bolland, Brandon Saad and Nick Leddy each found the back of the net twice in the four games, while Viktor Stalberg, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jeremy Morin each scored once.
Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp both missed a game against the Red Wings during the regular season, and each recorded only one assist in the three games they played against Detroit. Patrick Kane was also limited to one point against the Wings during the regular season.
But the regular season is over. And the Hawks and Wings haven’t played in over a month (April 12 was their last game, a shootout victory for the Hawks).
So who’s hot in the postseason?
For Detroit, it’s the usual suspects; Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have been dominant. Zetterberg led Detroit with eight points in the seven games, while Datsyuk had seven.
The Red Wings owned Anaheim at the dot in their first round series as well. Datsyuk (55.8%), Valteri Filppula (55.8%) and Joakim Andersson (53.5%) were strong, while Zetterberg was used primarily as a wing until the final game of the series; Detroit’s captain took only nine faceoffs in the first six games, but was involved in 21 in the finale.
What ultimately led to the Red Wings winning the final two games of their series against the Ducks was how, and where, their stars made an impact. Mike Babcock out-coached Bruce Boudreau throughout the series, but was most impressive in Games Six and Seven.
Interestingly, Franzen tied for the team lead with three goals against Anaheim, but finished with a minus-five rating in the series.
For the Hawks, four players were point-per-game producers in the first round and three of them – Hossa, Sharp and Kane – were noticeably absent from the top of the regular season stats against the Red Wings. Now healthy, Sharp lit up the Wild for five goals in five games and Hossa had three goals and three assists.
The difference in the series may ultimately be how the speed in the Hawks’ bottom-six forwards matches up with the depth of the Red Wings.
Detroit will bring out a few youngsters of their own, including Emmerton, Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist. But they have relied on veterans like Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary, Mikael Samuelsson and Patrick Eaves throughout the playoffs.
As Bolland returns to the Hawks’ lineup, Chicago will have options with their forward depth. If Bolland returns to the third line, one of Stalberg, Andrew Shaw and/or Bryan Bickell will shift to another line, creating match-up headaches for Babcock. The opportunity to give top-line ice time to a veteran if Saad struggles also presents some intrigue for two coaches that play match-ups as well as anyone in the NHL.
Special teams will also play a significant role, and could favor the Blackhawks.
Chicago didn’t allow a powerplay goal against Minnesota, killing all 17 of the Wild’s opportunities with an advantage. Detroit’s powerplay scored six times in 25 opportunities (24.0%) in the first round, but also allowed one short-handed goal to the Ducks.
Of course, the Blackhawks’ powerplay was the same disaster in the first round as it was during the regular season. The Hawks scored only two powerplay goals in 13 opportunities against the Wild. However, Detroit’s penalty kill struggled against Anaheim, allowing seven powerplay goals in 25 short-handed opportunities (72.0%) over seven games.
Between the pipes, the more impressive resume through the first round belongs to Crawford. Jimmy Howard allowed 20 goals in seven games against Anaheim, posting a .911 save percentage. Howard was tested by the Blackhawks during the regular season and will face a Hawks team that rolled four lines (well, at least 11 forwards) for much of their first round series against Minnesota.
With Detroit winning on Sunday night, the San Jose Sharks will face the Los Angeles Kings in the other Western Conference match-up. The Eastern Conference will have two Game Sevens on Monday night.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 5