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NHL playoffs second-round preview: No. 1 Blackhawks vs. No. 7 Red Wings

Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks tries to beat Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard If goalie Jimmy Howard can steal a game or two, Detroit will have chance to upset Chicago. (Robin Alam/Icon SMI)

By Brian Cazeneuve

Snapshot

This is one of the great historic rivalries in the game, and one we may not see again for a while because next season’s realignment will pull the Red Wings east and away from their traditional foe. Over the years, neither home advantage nor recent history has been a sufficient predictor of how a series between these two teams will go. Chicago comes off a short season that began with a record 24-game streak without a loss. The retooling Wings, meanwhile, had to scramble to get into the playoffs in the season’s final week. The top-seeded Hawks finished 21 points ahead of the No. 7 Wings during the regular season and, not surprisingly, Chicago had an easy five-game series in the opening round against Minnesota, while Detroit needed a full seven-game sweat to dispose of Anaheim. But don’t expect the veteran Wings to be overly impressed or intimidated by the proficient Hawks. These teams have a way of throwing out regular-season results and turning the playoffs into real drama.

ROUND 2: Penguins-Senators | Bruins-Rangers | Hawks-Wings | Kings-Sharks | Storylines

Regular-season recaps

Jan. 27: Blackhawks 2, Red Wings 1 (OT) 

March 3: Blackhawks 2, Red Wings 1 (SO)

Mar. 31: Blackhawks 7, Red Wings 1

April 12: Blackhawks 3, Red Wings 2 (SO)

Notable injuries

Blackhawks: C Dave Bolland (groin, day to day); G Ray Emery (groin, available)

Red Wings: LW Drew Miller (broken hand, out indefinitely); C Darren Helm (back, out indefinitely)

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Detroit’s keys to victory

The Red Wings pulled a surprise late in the series against the Ducks by separating veteran forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. That gave the team more balance and created some confusing matchups for Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau. Still, in order for the Wings to prevail here, they’ll need some support from the less heralded players on their roster. Center Damien Brunner had five points against Anaheim, including a game-winning goal, while Gustav Nyquist added a game-winner of his own. Detroit will need more of that as well as continued superb goaltending from Jimmy Howard to win the series.

Chicago’s keys to victory

The Hawks should be fresher and able to use their manpower advantage both on defense and to create supplemental scoring with their third and fourth lines. Chicago can maximize that edge by being as physical as possible with Detroit’s smaller players and defense that logged a lot of minutes during seven games in a very demanding opening round. Goalie Corey Crawford split most of his time with Ray Emery during the season, but he may be on his own from now on. The Hawks' penalty killing, perfect against the Wild, will be tested against the more potent Wings.

X-factor

How will Detroit’s older veterans hold up against the Hawks? So many of the Wings’ key players are long in the tooth, including Todd Bertuzzi (38), Dan Cleary (34), Pavel Datsyuk (34), Johan Franzen (33), Mikael Samuelsson (30), Henrik Zetterberg (32) and Niklas Kronwall (32). In contrast, Chicago’s core, starting with Patrick Kane (24) and Jonathan Toews (25), is much younger. The Hawks should also be fresher because they’ve had more days off in between rounds. That advantage may come into play if this drags on.

Point to ponder

Chicago has an eight-game win streak against Detroit during regular-season play, and nine of the last 10 games between the teams have been decided by one goal.

The pick

Chicago in seven: The Blackhawks should prevail, but it will likely take a long series. If Howard outplays Crawford, Detroit can expect to win at least a couple of games. Both teams have star players who rise to the occasion in postseason spotlights, so there won’t be a sense of panic on either team amid some early adversity. Detroit will need to get a win early when Chicago’s legs are fresh to stand a chance. A fast start from the Wings will extend the series, but the Hawks will ultimately advance.

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