Sunday, March 28, 2010
Playoff Watch: Wings did it again
By Jesse Rogers
Antti Niemi's grip on the No. 1 goaltending job gets tighter the more Cristobal Huet struggles.
Every morning from now until the playoffs, I’ll give you an update on where the Chicago Blackhawks stand in the playoff race.
Well, the Detroit Red Wings did it again. They won their fifth in a row on Saturday, jumping two spots in the standings. And this one was as dramatic as it gets. The Wings and Nashville Predators played to a scoreless tie after 65 minutes. Eleven rounds of penalty shots later, Detroit had a 1-0 victory and the No. 6 seed in the conference. In doing so, they moved further away from playing the Hawks in the opening round. The Predators earning a point in the game staved off Detroit from leap-frogging them as well, to take over the No. 5 seed.
After Saturday’s action, there were no changes in the top-five seeds but 6-8 got jumbled a bit with the Wings victory and losses by both the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings. If the playoffs began today, the Blackhawks, as the No. 2 seed, would face the Kings, as the seventh, in the opening round. After jumping to the fifth seed, Detroit would take on the Vancouver Canucks, who lost to San Jose on Saturday.
The Sharks might be regaining their form, having won their third in a row after losing six straight. They have a three-point lead on the Hawks, though they have played two more games. The Phoenix Coyotes also won on Saturday to get to 100 points -- one ahead of the Hawks -- but they’ve played three more than Chicago.
The Hawks will have a chance to make up those games, real quick. They play their final nine games in 15 days with no more than one day between games. They also have two sets of back-to-back games as well to complete their league-high 19 back-to-backs.
On Saturday, the Hawks revealed they held a team meeting on Friday, in the wake of the 8-3 drubbing they took Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
I think too much is being made of the loss. There is a reason goaltending and quarterbacking are considered the most important positions in sports. On Saturday, the goaltending deserves most, if not all, of the blame. Cristobal Huet didn’t give the team in front of him a chance. They were just present. He allowed the damage and admitted as much after the game. Some nights, in fact most nights, it’s not a one-man show. On this one, it was.
The Hawks have proven, even recently, they can play their puck possession game and win when their goalie gives them that chance. With Antti Niemi getting the bulk of the time down the stretch, look for more positive outcomes.
As late as it seems, there’s still plenty of time to round into shape. Just ask the Sharks: Six losses in a row, at this time of the season, sounds devastating. It will be long forgotten when the playoffs begin. I predict the Hawks' woes will be cast aside, too, unless they continue right up to the postseason. Then, I’d be worried, too.