It is official, the Wings playoff streak will continue as they face the #2 seed Anaheim Ducks starting likely on Tuesday. Detroit was able to sweep the last four games that they needed in order to just make the playoffs and now enter as one of the hotter teams in the NHL. Detroit won the season series, going 2-1 with the road team winning each game, but none of that matters now that the playoffs have started.
Detroit has leaned on Jimmy Howard most of the season and that will continue heading into the playoffs. Howard went 21-13-7 this season with a goals against average of 2.13, save percentage of .923 and five shutouts on the season. The Wings will need him to stay hot if they are going to steal this series.
As for Anaheim, Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth split time all season going a combined 30-12-6, GAA of 2.27 and save percentage of .917 and five shutouts. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau will have to choose which goalie to start and when to pull him if they struggle at all. How he juggles his goaltenders could be the story of this series.
An Achilles heel of the Wings most of the season has been stabilized recently by the addition of Danny DeKeyser. He has stepped in and played top-four minutes right out of college and the Wings are 6-5 since he has been here. Not overly impressive except for three losses were in the shootout and all six losses were by just one goal. I think DeKeyser is going to be the Wings X-factor in this series, not by how much he scores, but by how he handles the high-scoring Ducks.
As for the Ducks they have a potential Norris Trophy winner in Francois Beauchemin, who led Ducks defensemen with 24 points and tied his teammate Sheldon Souray for the NHL lead for defensemen with a +19. The Ducks finished the season ninth overall giving up only 2.4 goals per game so don’t expect a high scoring series.
Oh boy, the Wings have two of the best players in the world in Datsyuk and Zetterberg, but the lack of consistent talent around them has forced coach Mike Babcock to play them on the same line down the stretch. If guys like Brunner, Franzen, Filppula and others don’t perform like we know they should this will be a long series.
Anaheim on the other hand has been rolling four scoring lines all season, with the top goal-getters being Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry with 15 each. That is less than half of what league leader Alexander Ovechkin had this season (32) but the Ducks still finished eighth in the NHL with 2.8 goals per game. The complete depth the Ducks have will test the Wings and force the big guns to produce even more.
This has been a hell of a season for Detroit, and not always in a good way. The Wings have fought every game and may actually be peaking at the perfect time. Anaheim has struggled with the Wings and it will be interesting who is going to be between the pipes every night for the Ducks. I think this may be the most interesting first-round matchup, and I take the Red Wings in 6 to move on.
More than just the playoffs
But the intrigue doesn’t end with the playoffs starting, front office and coaching changes could be on the horizon. Darren Dreger from TSN has reported that Dallas will (and has) fired GM Joe Nieuwendyk and will replace him with Ken Holland’s right-hand man
Nill has been with the Wings since 1994 and is currently the Assistant GM with duties including the director of amateur scouting and selections in the NHL Draft. Nill is one of the most respected guys in the business and it will be interesting to see how the Wings and Ken Holland do without him.
But the juiciest rumor of the weekend relates to the future of head coach Mike Babcock. No, it isn’t that he could have lost his job if the Wings didn’t make the playoffs, much more rumor-er.
That’s right, rumors Babcock could be moving on to the college ranks and replace the legendary Red Berenson behind the Wolverines bench is floating around the inter-web as we speak. Any Wings fans who are also Spartans must be just furious with this one.
So what do you think fans, lots of questions. How will the Wings fare against the Ducks? Will Detroit start to slip without assistant GM Jim Nill? And could the face of Wolverine hockey actually be Mike Babcock? Let us know at DetroitSportsBloggers.com or on Facebook and Twitter.