Whether he likes it or not, Mike Babcock has accepted what the future has in store.
“It looks to me we’re playing Nashville in the first round,” the Red Wings coach told MLive.com. “Two really good teams, not much to pick between us, so it’s going to be a battle.”
At the time of writing, Detroit was sitting fourth in the Western Conference with 97 points, one point clear of fifth-place Nashville (96). It’s unlikely either will catch Central Division-leading St. Louis (103) or be caught by sixth-place Chicago (92) — according to Sports Club Stats, Detroit has a 65 percent chance of finishing fourth and a 30 percent chance of finishing fifth; Nashville has a 31 percent chance of finishing fourth and a 61 percent chance of finishing fifth.
What it means? With six games left in the regular season, the Preds and Wings can essentially start prepping for their first-round playoff matchup.
But before the two teams start looking ahead to the playoffs, there’s the not-so-tiny issue of home-ice advantage. Detroit, who earlier this season set an NHL record 23-game home winning streak, would obviously love to have an extra game at Joe Louis Arena (the Wings are 2-0 against the Preds at the Joe this year) — and Nashville would obviously love for Detroit to play an extra game on the road (the Wings are 16-20-3 away from the Joe this year.)
On Friday, both teams will decide their fates as the Wings host the Preds in their sixth and final meeting of the season. Detroit leads the season series 3-2, but it’s Nashville who comes in the hotter side having won six of their last 10, including a 3-2 win over Detroit on Mar. 10.
If the two teams do end up meeting in the playoffs, it’ll be for the third time — Detroit eliminated Nashville in six games in both 2003-04 (Nashville’s first-ever postseason appearance) and 2007-08 (which, oddly enough, was Alex Radulov’s swan song.)