CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 10: Patrick Sharp #10 of the Chicago Blackhawks hops out of the way of the puck as Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save and Nicklas Lidstrom #5 defends at the United Center on April 10, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Patrick Sharp;Jimmy Howard;Niklas Lidstrom
Weird scheduling quirk, as this will be the first time the Hawks and Wings square off this season. And now they'll do that three times in the next seven games. That's brilliant stuff right there.
No matter how much we hate to admit it, everything the Hawks do is pretty much still measured against Detroit. You'd think a Cup on top of the division title two years ago would be enough to stand alone, but it doesn't work that way in our heads. And a decade or more of being beaten to a pulp isn't washed away by one year, especially when it was backed up by Detroit taking back the division this year.
In a lot of Hawks fans minds, we can't know how good this team is until we see what they can do against Detroit. They're the closest pursuers, they're still the standard in a lot of people's minds, and it's what any team is always compared to.
The funny thing is that the Wings are a good matchup for the Hawks. Despite the talent level, the Wings like to open it up, don't clog the neutral zone, and outside of Todd Bertuzzi and Johan Franzen, they're not overly big. It's hard to beat the Hawks with speed. These two try and play the same game, it's just a matter of who does it better. In the last game of last season, when the Wings looked to have ended the Hawks playoff hopes, the did it by simplifying their game. They dumped the puck in, they stayed reserved between the blue lines, they hammered away at the Hawks defense physically until they coughed the puck up. And it worked. I wouldn't be shocked if they try this again.
The particulars: Corey Crawford will start, the lines are jumbled, and we'll see how many periods they last. Hopefully Sami Lepisto's quicker feet get a look ahead of the tires-in-the-mud Sean O'Donnell.
For the Wings, the story is Jimmy Howard. He's got a sub-2.00 goals against and a save-percentage of .927. He's been the Wings first top level goalie in I don't know how long. He's covering up the warts that the Wings have, and they do have a few. He's kept them in games they didn't belong in, and then eventually that scoring talent kicks in from a platform they didn't deserve to be at.
And that talent. Pavel Datsyuk is healthy again, and is the magician that Patrick Kane wishes he could be. Johan Franzen is also healthy and in beast mode. Henrik Zetterberg is off a bit, but always dangerous. The impossible to spell Valtteri Filppula is having a career year. They can hurt you from everywhere.
Both the Hawks and Wings have struggled a bit in games against the league's other aristocracy. Both will see this as a true test of where they are. Should be a thing.
Sam Fels is the proprietor of The Committed Indian, an unofficial program for the Blackhawks. You may have seen him hocking the magazine outside the United Center at Gate 3. The program is also available for purchase online. Fels is a lifelong 'Hawks fan and he also writes for Second City Hockey .