The Chicago Blackhawks could be getting a taste of a possible first-round, playoff matchup Friday night when they host the Detroit Red Wings. If the season ended Friday morning, Chicago fans would be treated to a postseason tussle with a longtime rival before the team departs due to realignment.
The Red Wings will no longer be a divisional or even a Western Conference foe starting next season. An opening-round series might serve as a last hurrah for two Original Six franchises.
Chicago currently sits comfortably in the top spot of the conference standings, five points above Anaheim with a pair of games in hand. Detroit, on the other hand, is just two points ahead of Phoenix and three ahead of Dallas and Columbus for the eighth playoff seed.
While the 'Hawks sewed up a spot in the postseason earlier this week, Detroit is in danger of seeing its 21-season playoff streak come to a close. That makes the Red Wings a motivated and potentially dangerous opponent.
Chicago has won three straight as it heads into the final nine games on the schedule. The workload will be heavy, as the Blackhawks have three sets of three games in four days. The first gets under way Friday night at the United Center. After Friday, Chicago visits St. Louis for a Sunday morning start and then hosts the Stars on Monday night.
Coach Joel Quenneville will send Corey Crawford out to the crease to face the Red Wings. Crawford nearly had a shutout in the last meeting between the two teams, a 7-1 rout by the 'Hawks.
Chicago has taken the first three games of the season series, winning 2-1 in Chicago on Jan. 27 and again in Detroit on March 3. Crawford has been in goal for all three contests and has a .969 save percentage in that stretch.
As well as Ray Emery has been playing, it's probably a given that Quenneville will give him at least three or four starts as the season comes to a close. It might surprise some that "Razor" is sitting following his shutout of Minnesota on Tuesday night. However, it's hard to argue with Crawford's success against Detroit.
Dave Bolland will miss another game Friday, although he did practice Thursday, according to Scott Powers of ESPNChicago.com. It appears that Patrick Sharp will remain in the lineup despite what looked to be a missed boarding call at the hands of Ryan Suter on Tuesday.
As we have seen in each of the last two seasons, any playoff opponent is to be respected. Despite the high level of play from the Blackhawks for the bulk of the season, every team starts off even in the playoffs.
The Red Wings are as good as anyone for the Blackhawks to start the postseason. A championship in 2013 for Chicago would only be sweeter knowing the road to the cup went through Detroit.