DETROIT MI - DECEMBER 08: Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings leads his team out to play against the Nashville Predators at the Joe Louis Arena on December 8 2010 in Detroit Michigan. The Predators defeated the Red Wings 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Detroit Red Wings are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 21st straight season. Can they run the gauntlet in the West and advance to the Final for the seventh time in that stretch?
The Detroit Red Wings are the Detroit Red Wings. It could be considered a down year for the club -- they certainly aren't of the caliber of recent years, at least -- yet they're still a postseason threat that could easily challenge for the Stanley Cup. They are always very, very good. The definition of consistency.
That said, they face a remarkably tough road in the Western Conference playoffs. If they get through a first-round meeting with the Nashville Predators, the No. 5-seeded Wings will likely be pitted against the likes of the Canucks and Blues, the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.
Heading into the gauntlet that is this postseason, we asked Jeff Hancock of Red Wings blog Winging It In Motown a few questions regarding the team.
1) What's the biggest reason you have confidence in the Red Wings heading into the postseason?
They haven't really played all that well the last month or so, but at the end of the day it's still a team that employs Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Lidstrom. With those three, you're never truly out of a game (or a series). We all know the quiet force that Lidstrom is on the blue line and every game it seems like Datsyuk pulls something new out of his bag of tricks. Having Jimmy Howard in net helps in the confidence department too. He was outstanding in the postseason last year and I have no doubt he'll be up to the task again. The team's play hasn't been there lately, but they all know what it takes to get it done at this time of year.
2) What's the biggest question mark surrounding the Red Wings heading into the playoffs?
It's hard to pick just one. They're pretty much healthy (Darren Helm is expected back by game two of the first round), so I'll go with the specialty teams. The Wings have been downright pathetic on the power play this season. So much talent and so little production. They've been top 10 on the PP in the last four seasons; this year they finished 22nd. They don't move around enough, they make too many passes and when they do shoot they usually shoot right into defenders attempting to block their shots. Tomas Holmstrom's production is down too. But it goes back to the chicken-and-the-egg-theory. Is the PP bad because Homer's production is down or is Homer's production down because the PP is bad?
3) If there's one player on the Red Wings that will have a breakout playoff campaign, who will it be?
Have to go with Valtteri Filppula. Hockeytown has been waiting for his breakout season for the last three years and we finally got it. He set a career high in goals (23), assists (43), points (66), plus/minus (+18) -- name a category and he probably set a new career high. He's had amazing chemistry on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Jiri Hudler. There's no reason to believe he won't continue to find success with those two in the postseason.
4) When all's said and done, the Red Wings' playoff chances hinge on ...
Jimmy Howard and Johan Franzen. He's the key to this team going on a deep playoff run. Howard has the ability to take over a game and go into full F-You Mode. If he's off his game, the Wings are in trouble. Even with guys like Datsyuk, Lidstrom and Zetterberg, this really might be Jimmy Howard's team. When it comes the Franzen, the Mule is a beast in the postseason. He lives for this time of year and the Wings desperately need his production.
5) Give a prediction. How far will the Red Wings go in these Stanley Cup Playoffs?
This team has been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde all season long. I wouldn't be surprised if they lost in the first round to Nashville and I wouldn't be surprised if they won the Stanley Cup. I'm not going to let the last month of injuries and poor play sway my prediction too much. Two straight seasons of second-round exits should have them motivated. The Wings will make the conference finals and if they don't this season will be seen as a huge failure.
For more on the Red Wings, check in with Winging It In Motown.