You’d think a team with as much talent as the Detroit Red Wings would find itself in a better spot than it is this late in the season — fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
“You always think Detroit’s been in the playoffs every year,” Blackhawks canter Dave Bolland said. “They’re a marquee team around the league, one of the top teams always. They’ve won all those Stanley Cups. It sort of lets you down when you see them fighting just to get in the playoffs because they’re a great team with great players. We’ll see what happens.”
The Wings have been hit hard by injuries this season, not to mention all they lost with the retirement of all-star defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom.
Gritty center Darren Helm has missed all but one game with a back injury, Todd Bertuzzi (back) has appeared in only seven games, while Mikael Samuelsson (upper body) has played in just four games.
“They’ve had definitely some injuries this year in a lot of areas there, particularly up front,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “You miss a guy like Nick Lidstrom on your team and you have those injuries, those type of seasons can happen. We saw last year, basically two years in a row, life and death trying to get into the playoffs — that if you get in anything can happen.”
If the playoffs started Friday the Hawks would draw the Red Wings in the first round.
“That would be pretty fun, actually,” Bolland said. “It’s not too far, only 45 minutes away (by air). It’s always nice in the playoffs when you have that close team where you don’t have to take a four-hour plane ride, stay there an extra night. If it is them, we’ll be ready for it. They’re still a good team with a lot of good players. You’ve got to be aware of them. They’re a scary team.”
Quenneville isn’t ready to start preparing for Detroit in the first round.
“It could happen, but there are four, five or six other options that look like could easily happen,” he said. “I think as your get a little close you might zone in on two or three teams, but right now it’s too premature for that.”
The Hawks on Friday night agreed to terms on a one-year contract with St. Cloud State forward Drew LeBlanc, who won the 2013 Hobey Baker Memorial Award, given annually to the most outstanding player in NCAA Division I hockey, earlier in the evening.
The 23-year-old LeBlanc had 50 points (13 goals) in 42 games this season. He was named a West first team All-American after leading the nation in assists and tying for seventh in overall scoring. The 6-0, 195-pound forward will report to the Hawks and wear jersey No. 14.
Always the Canucks:
The Red Wings will be leaving the West after this season when the NHL realigns, but for the Hawks there’s always Vancouver.
“In this era, that new rivalry is us and the Canucks,” Dave Bolland said. “It’s a great rivalry and we’ve played them so many times and had so many battles. Just the hatred between both teams is great for the league and great for the fans.
“It’s two teams that go out and battle their hearts out, one team wants to win and will slash and hit and do whatever it can to get that.”
Patrick Sharp, for one, will miss seeing the Red Wings five and six times a season.
“I don’t mind the new realignment the league decided to go with, but the one thing that does (stink) is not playing the Red Wings a number of times,” Sharp said. “I like going to Detroit and playing in their building and I like when they come here. They’re fun games to play in.”
Friday’s was the 725th all-time meeting between the Hawks and Detroit, the most in NHL history.
Time to experiment:
With the Hawks already having clinched a playoff spot and well ahead of St. Louis and Detroit in the Central Division standings, it’s going to allow Joel Quenneville the luxury of trying some things in the last eight games.
“Certainly it will be nice to look at the lines that we’d like to try going into the playoffs,” Quenneville said.
Single-game tickets for the first two rounds of the playoffs go on sale Monday at noon exclusively through TicketMaster.com or call 800-745-3000.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.