Game of the Week preview: Broken, beat, and scarred Red Wings stumble into playoffs

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While the Detroit Red Wings can play a hand in whether or not the Chicago Blackhawks make the playoffs when they face off against each other at 12:30 p.m. ET during NBC’s Game of the Week, the Red Wings have some of their own problems they’ll need to tend to as well.

When the Red Wings made the playoffs last season as the fifth seed in the Western Conference, they did so after making a huge run in March once the team got healthy after dealing with injuries all season long. This season, Detroit has led the Central Division virtually since the start. They’ve won the division title and are the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

After getting outstanding play from Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg all season and a revamped and renewed Nicklas Lidstrom, the Red Wings looked like the same red menace teams in the west became accustomed to seeing.

Things have gotten a bit dicey at the end of the season for Detroit, however. Unlike last March where the Wings roared into the playoffs, the Wings have been ice cold. Since March 2 Detroit has gone 7-7-4. Compare that to last season when Detroit went 16-3-2 from March 1 til the end of the season and you can understand why fans in the Motor City are a bit worried.

Making matters a bit more anxious this year is the health status of a handful of very important players. Henrik Zetterberg is out with a lower body injury and while he’s been sent for an MRI, no one’s sure how bad it is and how long he’ll be out for. We’d have to assume he’ll be back for the start of the playoffs, but if he’s not the Wings lose their best scorer and one of their best two-way threats. With 24 goals and 56 assists this year he’s by far in front of the team lead for points.

Pavel Datsyuk is far enough back of him thanks to his own injury worries earlier this season. Datsyuk missed 26 games of his own this year and has just 22 goals and 36 assists. You have to figure if he was healthy all year he’s a 30-goal guy but as it is, they’re happy he’s just back in the lineup and healthy.

Things aren’t any easier on defense where Niklas Kronwall is missing the rest of the regular season with his own lower body injury but Wings coach Mike Babcock says he’ll be ready to go once the playoffs begin. They’ll need Kronwall to be in good health as the Red Wings top four defensemen figure to shoulder a lot of the burden in the playoffs.

Their third pair rotation with Jonathan Ericsson, Ruslan Salei, and youngster Jakub Kindl have had some major struggles this year and haven’t figured themselves out as to who is going to get the call in the playoffs. While most teams find ways to hide that third pair, asking your top four defensemen to play mega-minutes through the playoffs is playing with fire.

A lot of teams would like to have these sorts of problems that center around being able to aptly prepare for a potential run at the Stanley Cup, but in Detroit where winning the Cup is the goal each season, these sorts of headaches and worries get magnified to a hysterical degree. How Mike Babcock handles the injuries going into the playoffs will be a storyline to play up and you’d have to think the Wings are hoping they don’t end up paired against a very physical team.

What is Alex Galchenyuk’s future in Montreal?

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Alex Galchenyuk is already a good player.

The question for the Montreal Canadiens is, can he be great?

Galchenyuk, the third overall draft pick in 2012, is coming off a decent regular season with 17 goals and 27 assists in 61 games. However, it wasn’t as good as last year’s 30-goal campaign, and he didn’t score a single goal in the playoffs.

“Hopefully he took a step back this year so he can take two forward next year,” GM Marc Bergevin said Monday at the Canadiens’ season-ending press conference.

Three assists were all Galchenyuk could manage in six games against the Rangers. More importantly, after more than 300 NHL games of experience, the 23-year-old is still not an everyday center, on a team where center depth is by far the biggest concern.

Habs defenseman Shea Weber thinks Galchenyuk still has a ton of potential.

“I think we’ve seen glimpses of it,” Weber said, per NHL.com’s Arpon Basu, “but I don’t think he’s tapped into how good he can be. One day he’s going to realize it, like all young guys do, he’s going to get it.”

Of course, not all young guys do get it. And at times, there have been questions about Galchenyuk’s competitiveness.

To play center in the NHL, you have to compete all over the ice.

“Ideally, we would love to have him play center,” head coach Claude Julien said. “But I think he realizes the same thing we realize right now. As a centerman, it’s one of the toughest jobs there is because you have to be all over the ice, and you’ve got to be able to skate. As a centerman, you have to be good at both ends of the ice, and you have to be responsible. Right now, he’s not at that stage.”

The kicker in all this is that Galchenyuk can become a restricted free agent this summer. He’s already signed one bridge deal, and he’s at the age now where many young stars sign for big money and a long term.

So, does he want to sign long term in Montreal?

He ducked the question today.

“My season just ended a couple of days ago,” Galchenyuk told reporters. “I honestly didn’t give it too much of a thought yet.”

Kunitz cleared for contact, available for start of Caps series

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The Pens may get back one of their most veteran skaters for their second-round series against Washington.

Chris Kunitz, who missed the last five regular season games and all of Pittsburgh’s Round 1 win over Columbus, has been cleared for contact (per the Tribune-Review) and could return from his lower-body ailment for Thursday’s opener at Verizon.

Kunitz, 37, finished the year with nine goals and 29 points in 71 games, averaging 15:31 TOI per night. It was a down season offensively, but the Pens are hopeful he can reclaim some of the form shown last spring, when he racked up 12 points in 24 games en route to the title.

A three-time Cup winner, Kunitz skated on the fourth line at today’s practice with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnackl.

In other health news, the Pens also declared d-man Chad Ruhwedel a game-time decision for Thursday, after he was sidelined with an upper-body injury. Carl Hagelin, out with a lower-body ailment, has continued skating and head coach Mike Sullivan said the team is hopeful Hagelin can play at some point against Washington.

DeBoer praises ‘courageous’ Thornton for playing with torn ACL, MCL (Updated)

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In a fairly stunning admission on Monday, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters that Joe Thornton played in four of San Jose’s six playoff games versus Edmonton with a significant knee injury.

Thornton, who was hurt against Vancouver late in the regular season, suffered tears to both his left MCL and ACL.

“I’ve never seen a guy play with a torn MCL and ACL,” DeBoer said, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s a courageous effort as I’ve ever seen.”

Thornton, 37, missed the first two games of the series to rest his knee, before suiting up for the final four. He averaged 18:50 TOI per night and finished with a pair of assists, numbers that are pretty remarkable given the severity of his ailment.

Jumbo wasn’t the only unhealthy Shark during the first-round playoff ouster. Logan Couture‘s face/mouth injury was well-documented and, today, DeBoer also revealed that Tomas Hertl was playing with a broken foot, and Patrick Marleau with a broken thumb.

Looking ahead, Thornton’s knee injury might cloud what’s an already murky future. He’s a pending UFA, and there have been no clear signals from the organization on how they’ll address his potential return. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported in January the Thornton camp was looking for a three-year deal.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Sharks GM Doug Wilson has time on his side. It’s understood the club probably wouldn’t act on an extension for Thornton until after the June expansion draft, which could give the Sharks enough time to better gauge his health.

Update:

Per NBC Sports California, Wilson confirmed Thornton is undergoing surgery today to repair the ligaments.

 

 

Online bookmaker: Caps are Stanley Cup favorites

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The Washington Capitals got a bit of a scare in the first round, but they’ll go into the second round as the Stanley Cup favorites.

Per online bookmaker Bovada, here is the full list of Stanley Cup odds for the eight remaining teams:

Washington Capitals   7/2
Pittsburgh Penguins    17/4
Anaheim Ducks             11/2
Edmonton Oilers          11/2
St. Louis Blues              13/2
Nashville Predators     7/1
New York Rangers       8/1
Ottawa Senators           10/1

The Chicago Blackhawks entered the postseason as 4/1 Cup favorites at Bovada. Of course, the ‘Hawks were then swept by the Preds, who’ve gone from 25/1 long shots to 7/1 heading into their series with the Blues.

The Caps’ odds actually dropped to 13/2 after they fell behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-1. But three straight wins, two in overtime, clinched them a spot against the Penguins in the second round.

The Ottawa Senators are the long shots of the bunch now, despite having home-ice advantage over the Rangers in the second round.