Game of the Week preview: Blackhawks could finish anywhere from fifth to ninth place

Considering the fact that the final regular season NBC Game of the Week (at 12:30 pm ET) also comes on the final day of the 2010-11 campaign, there was a serious risk that this could have been a meaningless game. Instead, the Chicago Blackhawks host the Detroit Red Wings in a contest that could rearrange the lower half of the Western Conference’s playoff tree.

To put it in the simplest terms, the Blackhawks could finish as high as fifth place in the West with a regulation or overtime win against Detroit. That’s a pretty high ceiling for a team fighting for their playoff lives, but there’s also the very low floor. If Chicago loses in regulation and the Dallas Stars earn a regulation or overtime win, the Blackhawks won’t even make the playoffs.

There are, however, some in-betweens among those two extremes. The most important thing to remember is that a single point will clinch them a playoff spot (and the seventh seed), but if you want the full rundown of the scenarios, check the bottom of this post.

Beyond the minute details of how/where they can end up in the playoffs, the most important question is: how are they approaching this game? CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers caught up with coach Joel Quenneville and the team, who realize that weeks of discussing must-win games boil down to a contest that really is the biggest of their turbulent 2010-11 season.

“Everything’s at stake for tomorrow’s game,” Joel Quenneville said after Saturday’s practice. “I don’t know how many times we’ve said that statement all year, but tomorrow it really is.”

If the Blackhawks want to get that one point – or two, which would actually be more to their liking – they’re going to have to bring the same dominant game they had in their 4-2 victory in Detroit on Friday night. The Blackhawks were stellar; as Brian Campbell said, they recognized the situation at hand.

Rinse and repeat.

“It’s the biggest game. (Friday) was the biggest before that, and the one before that. It’s been that way for a while,” Campbell said. “We’re still in the same situation. It’s probably going to be a playoff atmosphere so we’ll be ready to go.”

The defending Stanley Cup champions must wait until the absolute last day of the season to find out if they’ll even make the playoffs again. While their focus must have been centered on their own conference foes more than anything else on Saturday, there’s a good chance that the Blackhawks are also aware of the sorry fate of another former championship team: the Carolina Hurricanes.

Much like the Hurricanes, Chicago’s fate is in their own hands. Will they win that staring contest, or will they blink, allowing another team to decide their future? We’ll find out in the NBC Game of the Week.

Chicago’s possibilities beyond a regulation/overtime win or the worst case scenario:

A single point would earn the Blackhawks the seventh seed since the 98-point Los Angeles Kings don’t have as many non-shootout wins as Chicago.

There’s also a nail-biting scenario in which Chicago could stay in eighth place. They would “accomplish” this task by losing in regulation to Detroit while the Stars fail to win in regulation or overtime.

The final situation involves a shootout win for the Blackhawks. Chicago would end the season with the same amount of non-shootout wins as Phoenix and Nashville, but they hold tiebreaker advantages over both teams.* Ultimately, then, a shootout win would be just as valuable as a regulation or overtime win. The Blackhawks would earn the fifth seed in that situation.

(How did I get at that last point? Let’s just say it’s a complicated scenario, but Buddy Oakes at Preds On the Glass came up with the same conclusions.)

***

So, in the grand scheme of things, the Blackhawks can earn the fifth spot with a win and a playoff spot with an overtime or shootout loss. If they fail to earn a point, they are at the mercy of the Stars.

If you’re hoping for a playoff atmosphere in the last day of the season, look no further than Sunday’s game between the Red Wings and the Blackhawks.

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins

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Yes, the Philadelphia Flyers’ playoff hopes are basically squashed, but Sunday should provide plenty of motivation: giving the Pittsburgh Penguins grief.

The two rivals will face off on NBCSN tonight with the Penguins hoping to improve their situation in the three-team Metropolitan race for the division crown (and, failing that, at least one round of home-ice advantage).

The Penguins must fight injuries and a cross-state rival. There should be plenty of talent on the ice, too, so this should be a fun one.

You can watch on NBCSN, online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Video: Doc Emrick takes a look back at Joe Louis Arena memories

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Sunday’s overtime win against the Wild wasn’t the last hurrah for the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, but that time is rapidly approaching.

The Red Wings have four more dates at the historic building:

April 1: vs. Maple Leafs
April 3: vs. Senators
April 8: vs. Canadiens
April 9: vs. Devils

With the playoffs out of reach, Red Wings fans must grapple with the end of an era.

To help with that cause, Mike “Doc” Emrick narrated a great look back at Joe Louis Arena, which you can enjoy in the video above.

And, if it helps make the future look a little rosier, take a look at highlights from Sunday’s victory.

Goalie nods: Henrik Lundqvist returns for Rangers

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After missing nearly three weeks due to a lower body injury, Henrik Lundqvist will be back in net for the New York Rangers on Sunday night when the team visits the Anaheim Ducks.

Coach Alain Vigneault already said that Lundqvist is expected to start two of the three games on this west coast trip, and after Antti Raanta started and recorded the shutout in Los Angeles on Saturday night it seems that Lundqvist will finish the trip with starts against the Ducks and then again on Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks.

Lundqvist has not played since March 7 when he stopped 43 out of 45 shots in a win over the Florida Panthers.

It was that game that Lundqvist suffered the injury that kept him out of the lineup.

Raanta played every game for the Rangers during his absence and continued what has been a strong season as Lundqvist’s primary backup, but if the Rangers are going to have a chance in the postseason they are not only going to need a healthy Lundqvist, but to also have him playing at the level he has been playing at over the past couple of months. Since the beginning of February Lundqvist has recorded a .931 save percentage in his 14 appearances for the Rangers.

Speaking of the postseason, the Rangers can clinch a spot in the playoffs on Sunday night with a win over the Ducks.

No official word from the Ducks on their starter on Sunday, but look for Jonathan Bernier to get an opportunity to continue his recent hot streak.

Elsewhere on Sunday…

— It was Devan Dubnyk going against Jimmy Howard in the early NBC game between the Minnesota Wild and Detroit Red Wings.

Keith Kinkaid gets the start at home for the New Jersey Devils when they go against the Dallas Stars, who will be countering with Kari Lehtonen.

Matt Murray goes for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they host their cross-state rivals the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers went with Michal Neuvirth on Saturday so look for Steve Mason on Sunday.

Michael Hutchinson will be in net for the Winnipeg Jets when they host the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have not announced their starter, but after Richard Bachman got the start on Saturday it should be Ryan Miller in net for this one.

Wild’s struggles continue with OT loss to Red Wings

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Well, the good news for the Minnesota Wild is Sunday’s game in Detroit wasn’t anywhere near as embarrassing as their game on Saturday. They were at least competitive in this and took the game to overtime to earn a point in the standings.

The bad news is the result was pretty much the same — another loss in the standings.

Thanks to Andreas Athanasiou‘s 17th goal of the season 1:52 into the overtime period, the Red Wings were 3-2 winners on Sunday afternoon, sending the Wild to their 11th loss in 14 games this month.

The game continues Minnesota’s late-season collapse that has seen the team lose its stranglehold on the Central Division and play some of its worst hockey of the season with the playoffs just around the corner. They have collected just seven out of a possible 28 points in the standings this month and still sit seven points back of the Chicago Blackhawks for the top spot in the division after Sunday. The Wild led the division by five points at the start of the month.

As bad as another loss is, this was far from the Wild’s worst game during this recent stretch. They limited Detroit to just 19 shots on goal, they had their chances to win it. But at the end of the day nobody in Minnesota wants to hear that right now because it’s still a loss, and it still looks like a team that is struggling to find answers on the ice. Not really the type of thing you want to see at this time of year.

Minnesota actually entered the third period with a 2-1 lead but let it slip away early in the period on a Tomas Tatar power play goal 55 seconds in. The Wild had their share of chances late in the game only to have Jimmy Howard make a couple of huge stops on Eric Staal and Jason Zucker in the final minute.

Staal did score his 26th goal of the season earlier in the game to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.

As for the Red Wings, the win is their fourth in their past six games (and the fifth with at least a point during that stretch) while Henrik Zetterberg continued his recent strong play recording another assist.

Defenseman Mike Green also scored in the win.