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.