It had to be this way, didn’t it? While it was thought that the final regular season tilt between the Hawks and Wings was going to be the swan song for the rivalry before Scum headed east, that belief was strengthened by Minnesota’s ineptitude in the final week with their plummet to the eighth seed. But a funny thing happened on the way to Mordor, as the Wings were able to off the on-paper contender Ducks in seven games, and so it has now come to pass. One last dance before bidding adieu, with actual stakes attached.
Scum enters tonight three days removed from offing the #2 seed Ducks, recovering from a 3-2 series deficit, proving that there are still some spasms of life left in the corpse of their dynasty. Naturally, they were led by Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, that latter of whom topped things off with a flurry of five points in the final two games, including the OT winner in game 6 to stave off elimination. It seems the captain’s C is fitting him just fine, despite it being on the wrong side of the jersey.
Elsewhere in Scum’s forward corps, Justin Abdelkader has begun to establish himself as a top flight nuisance skating on Detroit’s top line, and has the suspension street cred to prove it. What little punishing forecheck comes from the Wings will be in the form of Abdelkader, who has the speed and the size to make life unpleasant for Hawk defensemen below their goal line. Johan Franzen has the size, but time and injuries are catching up with him, as he appears stuck in third gear, to the point that the Ducks dropped a -5 on him in a 7 game series. Valtteri Filpulla at face value is everything you’d want out of a second center, with the ability to win a draw, distribute the puck, and backcheck, but he’s got the tendency to drift. Newcomers Gustav Nyqvist and Damien Brunner have OT winners to their credit, but haven’t been all that productive otherwise. And the fourth line has been a hodgepodge of veterans and youth, with Cory Emmerton, Patrick Eaves, and aging criminal Todd Bertuzzi drawing straws for tonight.
On the blue line, Scum’s top pair consists of Swedes Jonathan Ericsson and the leaping Niklas Kronwall. Kronwall has reigned in his game a little bit in the latter stages of the year but can still get caught out of position going for a highlight reel (and often borderline) hit. This pair will be leaned on heavily in all situations, because the bottom four is just icky-bad. Jakub Kindl and Carlo Colaiacovo form the second pair, while Brendan Smith and first-round-pick trade-worthy Kyle Quincey make up the other, and there isn’t a truly positionally sound defender in the group.
This will all be in front of Jimmy Howard and his wonky hammy, which caused him to leave practice yesterday. Howard is capable of highlight reel saves, but he was pretty much under seige in the Ducks series, and didn’t allow fewer than 2 goals in any of those games. A .911 save percentage against this Hawks team won’t cut it.
One of the questions about how Scum were going to come at the Hawks was answered when the lineups got tweeted, and that’s by keeping Dats and Z seperated. Their two most responsible defensive forwards will likely draw against the Toews and Kane lines respectively, with Datsyuk and Toews gnawing at each other all series long. Hank poses a problem to the second line for the Hawks, as they can still tend to be hemmed in in their own end periodically. Additionally, it should be apparent early whether or not Babs wants to trade chances with the Hawks, or keep things bottled up in the neutral zone.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, nearly a week off has apparently given everyone an opportunity to get petulant due to a lack of any real problems to fix. According to a variety of sources Viktor Stalberg approached the coaching staff regarding his power play time, and Joel Quenneille has summarily benched him for tonight’s contest at the very least. This seems childish and stupid on a lot of fronts from everyone involved, especially given that there are games of actual consequence being played. Exacerbating all of this is that Stalberg’s roster spot is being taken by Dan Carcillo and his idiotic four minutes of ice time now that Dave Bolland is back in the lineup.
Oh yeah, that’s happening too. Bolland will get the call between Bickell and Andrew Shaw, which actually has the makings of a pretty decent third line, mitigating Bolland’s weakness at the dot with two crashers and bangers who can chase the puck down. However, this is at the expense of the second line which still contains Michal Handzus between Patricks Sharp and Kane. Zus had a pretty wretched series against the Wild, rendering himself pretty useless once he couldn’t win a draw. If he’s staring down Jared Leto all night and all series, it’s not going to get any easier for him.
Fortunately, the Hawks’ blueline is far less drama filled with pairings remaining the same since we last saw them. Look for Keith and Hammer to see quite a bit of the Datsyuk line, and remaining patient while Abdelkader bears down on them will be of utmost importance. Corey Crawford, who tends to bring his best against Detroit ( 11-2-0, 1.82GAA and .943SV%) obviously gets the call in the cage tonight.
While on paper the Hawks are obviously the deeper team here, there are some soft spots that the Wings can exploit, partially exacerbated by a two-sided tantrum between Q and Stalberg. Scum wins draws and the Hawks other than Toews don’t, and the Hawks aren’t really built to chase. And the matchup of Z and Zus has the potential to make what Matt Cullen’s line did to the Hawks look pleasant by comparison. But if Corey Crawford can do what he usually does to Detroit, the Hawks’ depth and Detroit’s defensive corps should combine to reduce the number from 12 to 11. Let’s go Hawks.