Five Q’s: Red Wings-Ducks series preview

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1. How much will the Wings miss Nicklas Lidstrom?

The question they’ve been asking all season. In the past, the Red Wings have been able to find ways to overcome the retirement or departure of a superstar player, but the salary cap era is making that increasingly difficult. Granted, there is no replacement for Lidstrom, but that doesn’t change the fact that Detroit’s defense remains one of its big question marks heading into this series. Coach Mike Babcock has liked what he’s seen lately from his blue-liners, but playoff pressure can produce a different story.

2. Are the Ducks for real?

It was never a question of top-end talent for Anaheim; it was one of depth. Forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan largely lived up to expectations this season, but they were complimented by forwards like Andrew Cogliano, Kyle Palmieri, and Saku Koivu. In 2011-12, the Ducks’ top three goal-scorers (Perry, Ryan, and Teemu Selanne) accounted for nearly half of the team’s total goals. This season, the offense has been spread around more. But is Anaheim’s success sustainable? Early on, they were getting great goaltending and scoring on a high percentage of their shots. Lately, they haven’t been so lucky, finishing the season with an 8-9-2 record in their last 19 games.

3. Can Johan Franzen stay hot?

After Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, the Red Wings’ biggest offensive weapon is the 33-year-old Franzen. When Detroit needed him most this season, he stepped up, scoring seven goals and 13 points in his last 13 games. If Franzen can carry that hot streak into the postseason, the Ducks’ Cinderella story might come to an abrupt end. To an extent, history is on Detroit’s side in this regard. Franzen first made a name for himself thanks to his breakout performance during the Red Wings’ 2008 Stanley Cup-winning run. He then averaged more than a point-per-game over the 2009 and 2010 playoffs. However, Franzen was largely a non-factor in 2011 and 2012 and, due in part to that, Detroit didn’t last long either of those years.

4. Hiller or Fasth?

Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau has been dancing around the question of who will start in Game 1. Goaltenders Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth both had superb seasons. While Fasth has the marginally superior numbers, Hiller has far more NHL experience. How much Hiller’s experience counts for is perhaps a tad debatable, especially seeing as he hasn’t played in a postseason game since 2009; but still, it was just a year ago that Fasth was playing in the Swedish Elite League. Regardless of who Boudreau picks, that netminder will likely be on a tight leash. If either one falters, his counterpart will likely be given an opportunity.

5. Can Babcock pull it off again?

In 2003, the Detroit Red Wings were a superpower, fresh off of a dominant regular season, as well as a Stanley Cup title in 2002. Then they ran into the seventh-seed Anaheim Ducks in the first round and lost. In four games. Now recall that Mike Babcock was the rookie bench boss leading the Ducks past their mighty foe. We’re not sure if the Wings are quite the underdogs the Ducks were back then, but Babcock’s certainly faced his share of challenges this season. If he can get his team to the second round, it will be another job well done for one of the league’s best head coaches.

For all the first-round playoff previews, click here.

Logan Couture can at least speak and eat following horrifying mouth injury

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As much as many of us suffer during a trip to the dentist, few can fathom the horrors hockey players often go through when a puck, stick or fist finds their teeth/mouths. Consult this vintage PHT post from 2010 if you want to cringe, a lot.

Much like Eddie Lack “only” dealing with a neck sprain, it’s strange to be heartened to hear that Logan Couture can speak and eat after his own painful ordeal, but that’s the positive update from the Mercury News on Tuesday.

Couture, Wilson said, did not need to have his jaw wired shut after a deflected puck caught him in the mouth on Saturday when the Sharks played the Nashville Predators.

“Hey, he can speak and eat … and his jaw isn’t wired shut!” Yeesh.

To little surprise, Couture isn’t playing on Tuesday. As far as the Sharks next three games (Thursday, Friday and Sunday), that remains to be seen.

As an aside, consider this: on the same day Jonathan Drouin‘s celebrating his birthday after helping the Lightning win, Couture is lucky if he can force down some birthday cake. Life: it isn’t always fair.

PHT discussed his trip to the dentist on Monday.

More mouth pain: When David Backes felt like his face was falling off.

Athanasiou got hurt during that Lack collision, too (and he blames Rask’s hit)

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The Carolina Hurricanes and Detroit Red Wings both exchanged signs of respect after Eddie Lack left last night’s game on a stretcher, but there’s a little controversy surrounding that situation … from the Red Wings’ perspective.

You see, Andreas Athanasiou may not have collided with Lack if not for a shove/cross-check by Hurricanes forward Victor Rask.

Athanasiou is out for the Red Wings tonight, and as the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James reports, he blames the Rask hit.

Here’s a screen grab of that moment via NBCSN/the Fox Sports broadcast:

Now, check it out in full motion:

It’s unfortunate that two injuries came of that overtime-clincher, though one may at least mildly defend Rask in noting that Athanasiou was really displaying his blazing speed on that play.

The Red Wings could very well be eliminated tonight, or soon, but Athanasiou has been a bright spot during a sometimes-glum season for Detroit. Hopefully, like Lack, this is merely a minor issue from an unfortunate collision.

More promising Eddie Lack news: Hurricanes label his injury a neck strain

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Yes, it feels a little weird to “cheer” a neck strain, but such injury news feels pretty fantastic for Eddie Lack.

The Carolina Hurricanes announced that he’s dealing with exactly that on Tuesday morning, not that long after Lack’s scare after being stretchered off the ice following a collision with Detroit Red Wings Andreas Athanasiou.

Lack ended up being hospitalized, but as it turns out, that was a pretty short-term situation.

With the positive news in mind, it’s already appropriate to wonder when Lack might be back, particularly since he’s been on quite a tear during Carolina’s unlikely push for a possible playoff spot. The Hurricanes didn’t provide a window of time for his recovery, and Lack himself was vague-if-positive:

In the mean time, the Hurricanes recalled Alex Nedeljkovic, who one would assume would primarily back up Cam Ward.

So, long story short: things seem very positive for Lack, though his rehab process remains cloudy.

Bruins recall McIntyre from AHL on emergency basis

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Update: As it turns out, Anton Khudobin might be the goalie dealing with an injury, according to the Boston Herald’s Steve Conroy. So, tonight’s starter boils down to Tuukka Rask or Zane McIntyre.

(Rask it is.)

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Tuukka Rask was supposed to be back in goal for the Boston Bruins tonight.

But then, just a couple of hours before their game with the Nashville Predators, the B’s announced they’d recalled goalie Zane McIntyre from the AHL on an emergency basis.

It’s not yet clear why McIntyre was recalled. Rask missed Saturday’s game in Brooklyn with a lower-body injury, but coach Bruce Cassidy said earlier today that Rask was healthy and ready to go.

“Tuukka is healthy,” said Cassidy. “That’s what he indicated to me and that’s all I needed to hear. He’ll be our starter tonight.”

If Rask is unable to play, expect Anton Khudobin to get the nod.

Khudobin backstopped the B’s to a 2-1 victory over the Isles on Saturday.