Plenty to Play for in Season’s Final Week

The Wings may have wrapped up a playoff spot with a huge overtime victory against the Predators on Saturday. And yes, they may have clinched the Central division title for the 9th time in 10 years the next day with a 4-2 win over Minnesota. And while they may be locked into either the second or third seed in the Western Conference, they still have plenty to play for in the last week of the 2010-2011 NHL regular season.

Keep the Train on the Tracks

The first, and most obvious, thing that the Wings should be looking to do over the final three games is continue to build momentum heading into the playoffs. There are currently 7 possible teams they could face in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, a number that will get whittled down over the next 5 days. These teams have been fighting each other tooth and nail for months now in one of the most exciting playoff races to date. They have been in playoff mode for a long time, and the Wings will need all hands on deck to avoid an upset.

Competition All Around

Speaking of which, Niklas Kronwall will miss his third straight game with an undisclosed injury. It was initially reported that it has been a sore shoulder keeping Kronwall out of action, but Ken Holland quashed those rumors today.

What that means is Ruslan Salei and Jakub Kindl get to continue to battle each other for the 6th and final spot on the defensive end. The job that had been Salei’s all season seems like it may have slipped away from him, with him missing some action to be with his family as his wife gave birth and the recent improved play of the rookie Kindl. I would think that Babcock would like to have Kronwall play the final two games of the season, a home and home with Chicago, so tomorrow against Carolina could be the final duel between the vet and the youngster.

Chris Osgood is eligible to come off of the injured reserve on April 8th, the day of the Wings second last game. In order to be ready by then, he would need a solid week of practice. Would the Wings activate him (and then be forced to send MacDonald back to Grand Rapids) for the final two games so he can get a little bit of action under his belt in case he’s needed in the playoffs? Or will they keep him on injured reserve the extra three days and not bother with sending MacDonald down until the start of the playoffs? It seems unlikely that the Wings will put Osgood into a playoff game, either in relief of Howard mid-game or starting in his stead for whatever reason, unless he had shown he could handle it during a regular season game.

What ever you happen to think of Osgood’s current ability to tend the Wings goal, having an extra healthy body is never a bad thing. Whether he comes back and is the third stringer behind Joey MacDonald or the regular backup to Howard, it will be good to at least have that extra netminder available before we starting throwing Thomas McCollum back into game action.

The Wings will be continuing with their forward rotation on Wednesday night, as Mike Modano and Kris Draper rejoin the lineup. Drew Miller is believed to be one of the two healthy scratches, with the other possibly coming in the form of Jiri Hudler. From the previously linked to Free Press article, Helen St. James disagrees, but I have a hard time seeing who else they could scratch. Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader are untouchable they way they’re playing. Patrick Eaves was a healthy scratch earlier in the season but hasn’t been one for a while and is vital to the penalty kill, especially with Miller also being scratched. Unless someone like Bertuzzi needs a maintenance day off, I believe it is going to be Hudler.

Similar to the defense situation, if coach Babcock is looking for a regular, 12 man group for his forwards in the playoffs (barring injuries of course), then the next couple of games could be the determining factor in how often certain players get into the lineup.

Spoiler Alert

The Red Wings could be putting a damper on two teams playoff hopes in their next three games if they emerge victorious.

First up is the Carolina Hurricanes who have bounced back nicely from an injury-marred 2009-2010 season that saw them finish 24th overall. They currently occupy the Eastern Conference’s 9th spot, three points back of 8th place Buffalo. A Buffalo win tonight, combined with a Carolina loss tomorrow, would eliminate the Hurricanes from post-season contention. Though there is not much in the way of animosity between the two clubs, it certainly would be nice to be the team the delivers the death blow.

Getting Personal

The Wings final two games could prove even sweeter if the schedule plays out in their favor. The Chicago Blackhawks, the reigning Stanley Cup champions, are perilously close to missing out on the fun altogether this season. They sit in 8th place in the Western Conference, with Dallas and Calgary nipping at their heels.

The Stars and Flames have 6 games combined remaining, against such powerhouses as Edmonton, Columbus, Colorado twice, and Minnesota. Those four teams will all be picking in the top 10 of the 2011 Draft, and occupy four of the bottom 5 spots in the Western Conference.

It’s not at all unthinkable that the Flames and Stars could find themselves ahead of the Blackhawks, with Chicago needing a win against the Red Wings to secure a playoff spot. How sweet would it be to crush the dreams of the team that took out a one year rental on our position at the top of the division?

What are you looking for out of the Red Wings over the season’s final week? Let me know in the comment section!

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