And then there were two.
The Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks stand alone among their 28 peers in the National Hockey League this morning as teams guaranteed neither a playoff spot or a tee time come Wednesday, April 13th. Everyone else has had their fate decided. The difference, of course, is that Chicago is at home and has their destiny in their own hands and they're playing a banged up Red Wing team that has no real tactical motivation to win this game. They're the three seed. This they know.
I thought about writing a game preview for the Stars and Wild on Saturday night but it would be disingenuous and ultimately insensitive in tone, pending the outcome of this Wings/Hawks game. The emotional landscape for the Stars at 5:00pm today has yet to be painted, so we're not going to try and foretell it. The Stars season is on pause until this plays out. We'll cross that hopeful, or somber bridge mid-afternoon.
For now we'll focus on the Red Wings, objects of much loathing and frustration while also carrying our one and only slim hope.
The events of last night actually give the Wings the ability to "choose" their first round opponent, so to speak. Lose against Chicago in regulation/overtime and they give themselves Nashville. If they win, they get Phoenix. Did you spot the problem there already? Those two are the same animal. Budget teams with goaltending with a strategy that doesn't get you out of first rounds. Kind of a toss up.
Coyote fans would rather have Detroit, they're rooting for a Detroit win. Kings fans don't want to drop to 8th (Vancouver) with a Chicago win, so they're also pulling for the Wings. Sharks fans like that matchup with Los Angeles, who just can't score, so they're rooting for the Wings as well. Ducks fans...probably don't want Nashville OR Chicago, so that's a tough one there. Either way, Detrotit has a lot of support today.
"Do they care?", is the question.
Read on after the jump...
The eye ball test on Friday night suggested a resounding "NO," they don't appear to care. Several egregious defensive errors handed the game to Chicago early even though the Wings eventually put a couple in the net later in the contest. Players and coaches agreed afterward that they need to be better, but the language coming from Wings practice was not all that strong.
Detroit fans have been alibiing with "just stay healthy, who cares about the game" but that's an excuse. No one, not even the old Wings can girlishly sashay their way into the postseason and expect to just flip a switch when it finally begins. A little momentum would be nice, truth be told, but we're just not sure it's that important to them.
One thing Stars fans have going for them is that Detroit will actually use their #1 man in net, Jimmy Howard. [Detroit Twitter feed]
Kris Draper gets it: "The atmosphere is going to be like a playoff game," Draper said. "And that’s fun and we have to respond to that and try to create a little momentum and take it into the playoffs."
"That's something we have to play for, potentially keeping them out of the postseason,'' Detroit's Brad Stuart said after Saturday's practice. "They're a big rival with us, it's going to be a big crowd, should be an exciting game. All those things combined we should have no problem getting up for the game.''
So the verbiage is getting better from the Red Wings but it's still anyone's guess on whether or not they feel strongly enough about the game to make any difference.
Chicago has beaten them four straight times and is playing for their playoff lives. Needing only a single point to secure a spot over Dallas, any lead Chicago gets in the second half of the game could quickly devolve the proceedings into "dump and change" for an hour.
So this game will likely be decided early on. If the Wings have to deal with that kind of muck from Chicago in the late stages of the game, it's not clear that there's sufficient motivation to propel them through that kind of adversity. They're the three seed now and they will be tomorrow at 4:30 CDT.
We'll hope for a gem from Howard, a wetting of the bed from Crawford, a game changing major penalty/power play, or whatever else that might take place that gives the Stars a chance. Miracles are fine. Bad bounces, bad calls, whatever you've got, hockey universe. We'll take it.
We'll have a GDT for this game as well as one for the Stars later today.