Five Q’s: Blackhawks-Red Wings preview

Do regular-season results matter?

Detroit will hope not.

The Blackhawks swept the season series 4-0 (though, to be fair, three of the games went to shootout or overtime) and clobbered the Wings 7-1 on Mar. 31, a game Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said “was embarrassing at times.”

The ‘Hawks are 7-0-2 in their last nine against the Wings  — dating back to last season — and haven’t lost in regulation to Detroit in over two years (Apr. 10, 2011).

Can Howard best Crawford?

Most admit Chicago has the edge in terms of forward and defensive depth, so the goaltending position is hugely important.

Statistically speaking, Crawford had the superior opening round. He posted a 1.32 GAA and .950 save percentage to Howard’s 2.74 and .911, but it was Howard that stepped up when the stakes were high.

He went 3-1 in overtimes during Round 1 — stopping nine of 10 shots faced — and came up big again in Game 7, stopping 20 of 21 shots in the second and third periods as Anaheim looked to rally (and the only goal that beat Howard was a bank shot off Jonathan Ericsson’s skate).

How tired are the Wings?

It was a tough opening round for Detroit, drawing arguably the worst travel option imaginable (nearly 2000 miles between Anaheim and Detroit).

The Wings made a number of cross-country flights during the series, went to overtime in four of the seven games and suffered several injuries along the way: Danny DeKeyser (broken thumb) was lost for the playoffs, Mikael Samuelsson aggravated a pectoral muscle injury, Jimmy Howard has a sore hamstring and Dan Cleary was a human bruise by Game 7.

Will Sharp stay hot?

After missing 20 games during an injury-plagued regular season, Patrick Sharp has taken the postseason by storm.

The 31-year-old forward led all Chicago skaters with five goals in the opening round, scoring two game-winning tallies.

His sniping prowess overshadowed the fact that Chicago’s leading goalscorers in the regular season — Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews — failed to find the back of the net against the Wild.

Kane still managed to rack up five assists in five games, though, and gave Sharp plenty of credit for converting on his scoring chances.

‘‘He knows how to get open,’’ Kane told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘And when he does, he doesn’t miss often.

“He’s always finding himself a good chance, whether it’s around the net or in the slot.’’

What to do with Datsyuk and Zetterberg?

It’s a question Anaheim wasn’t able to answer in the opening round — Datsyuk and Zetterberg combined for 15 points against the Ducks, who simply couldn’t find the proper matchup for Detroit’s two best players.

That said, the ‘Hawks might have an answer.

They’ll return center Dave Bolland for this series after he missed the end of the regular season and entire first round with a lower body injury.

Bolland is a talented checking center who figures to slot into the third line alongside Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw — a unit that can play a physical, defense-first game but also provide offense when necessary.

Even though he’s just 26, Bolland’s carved a reputation as a solid postseason performer. He has 37 points in 49 career games and scored eight goals in 22 games en route to Chicago’s Stanley Cup championship in 2010.

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

Rangers punch playoff ticket to wrap up night of clinched spots

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The New York Rangers weren’t ecstatic that Chris Tierney‘s 4-4 goal sent their game to overtime against the San Jose Sharks, but either way, getting beyond regulation punched their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday night.

For the seventh season in a row, the Rangers are in the NHL’s postseason. They fell to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, so they haven’t locked down the first wild-card spot in the East … yet. It seems like a matter of time, however.

The Rangers have now made the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 tries, a far cry from the barren stretch where the Rangers failed to make the playoffs from 1997-98 through 2003-04 (with the lockout season punctuating the end of that incompetent era).

New York has pivoted from the John Tortorella days to the Vigneault era, and this season has been especially interesting as they reacted to a 2016 first-round loss to the Penguins by instituting a more attacking style. The Metropolitan Division’s greatness has overshadowed, to some extent, how dramatic the improvement has been.

This result seems like a tidy way to discuss Tuesday’s other events.

The drama ends up being low for the Rangers going forward, and while there might be a shortage of life-or-death playoff struggles, the battles for seeding look to be fierce.

Oilers end NHL’s longest playoff drought; Sharks, Ducks also clinch

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There’s something beautiful about the symmetry on Tuesday … unless you’re a Detroit Red Wings fans, maybe.

On the same night that the longest active NHL playoff streak ended at 25 for Detroit, the longest playoff drought concluded when the Edmonton Oilers clinched a postseason spot by beating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1.

The Oilers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2005-06, when Chris Pronger lifted them to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

In doing so, other dominoes fell. Both the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks also punched their tickets to the postseason.

The Sharks, of course, hope to exceed last season’s surprising run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks continue their run of strong postseasons, even as their Cup win fades to the background ever so slightly. All three teams are currently vying for the Pacific Division title.

The Western Conference’s eight teams are dangerously close to being locked into place, as the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues are all close to looking down their spots as well.

Want the East perspective? Check out this summary of Tuesday’s events from the perspective of the other conference.

Craig Anderson took his blunder hard – probably too hard – in Sens loss

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Members of the Ottawa Senators were quick to come to Craig Anderson‘s blunder (see above) in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s not just about his personal struggles, either. When Anderson’s managed to play, he’s been flat-out phenomenal, generating a .927 save percentage that ranks near a Vezina-type level (if he managed to play more than 35 games).

Goaltending has been a huge reason why Ottawa has at least a shot of winning the Atlantic or at least grabbing a round of home-ice advantage, so unlike certain instances where teams shield a goalie’s failures, the defenses are absolutely justified.

Anderson, on the other hand, was very hard on himself.

You have to admire Anderson for taking the blame, even if in very much “hockey player” fashion, he’s not exactly demanding the same sort of credit for his great work this season.

It’s official: Red Wings’ playoff streak ends at 25 seasons

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When we look back at the 2016-17 season for the Detroit Red Wings, it will be remembered for some said endings.

It began without Pavel Datsyuk. We knew that their last game at Joe Louis Arena this season would be their last ever. And now we know that Joe Louis Arena won’t be home to another playoff run.

After 25 straight seasons of making the playoffs – quite often managing deep runs – the Red Wings were officially eliminated on Tuesday night. In getting this far, they enjoyed one of the greatest runs of longevity in NHL history:

Tonight revolves largely around East teams winning and teams clinching bids – the Edmonton Oilers could very well end the league’s longest playoff drought this evening – but this story is more solemn.

EA Sports tweeted out a great infographic:

“Right now it’s hard to talk about it, because you’re a big reason why it’s not continuing,” Henrik Zetterberg said in an NHL.com report absolutely worth your time.

Mike “Doc” Emrick narrated a great look back at Joe Louis Arena here: