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It may come down to home-ice for the Wings

By Jay Skebba
On April 12, 2012

The playoff beards have started to fill in on the faces of the Detroit Red Wings as they began their 21st consecutive postseason last night against the Nashville Predators in Tennessee.

The last time the 11-time champions missed out on the chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup was 1990.

George H. W. Bush was President, Tommy Page had the number one song in America, and all you needed for a gallon of gas was $1.16.

The playoffs have become a rite of passage for the Red Wings, whose streak of 21 straight appearances is the longest active in all of North American professional sports. They have registered 100 or more points in an NHL-record 12 straight seasons and in 15 of their last 17.

They don’t call it “Hockeytown” for nothing.

The Red Wings qualified for the fifth seed in the Western Conference with 102 points. They set another NHL record this year by winning 23 consecutive home games, a streak that stretched from Nov. 5 to Feb. 19 and had Detroit sitting in the top spot in the West. A record 12th Stanley Cup looked like a real possibility.

When the streak was finally snapped, things started unraveling and injuries started piling up. Goalie Jimmy Howard battled through a groin injury. Johan Franzen, Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary and Jakub Kindl all missed action down the stretch with various bumps and nicks. Even seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, who is almost always on the ice, was forced to miss 11 games with a bone bruise.

Unfortunately for Detroit, the injury bug would eventually bite superstar Pavel Datsyuk as well. The flashy Datsyuk — easily a top-5 player in the NHL — missed a month after having arthroscopic knee surgery.

The Wings literally limped into the playoffs and lack home-ice advantage in the first round against the Preds, which is bad news for a team that went 17-21-3 away from the Joe.

For the third straight year, Detroit is stuck with the dreaded five seed, which signals a likely meeting with the number one seed should they advance (The NHL re-seeds after the first round).

In each of the last two seasons the Wings advanced to the conference semifinals only to be beaten by the top-seeded San Jose Sharks. The Vancouver Canucks hold this year’s number one spot.

Detroit certainly has the talent and experience to get deeper into the playoffs than they have recently. Four players, Franzen, Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg, had at least 20 goals and Datsyuk still managed 19 despite his lengthy absence.

Jimmy Howard was unbelievable between the pipes in the first half of the season and was the starting goalie for the West in the All-Star Game. He was able to start the last five games of the regular season and still posted a 2.13 GAA, seventh-best in the league. The Wings need him to be the goalie he was earlier this year to have a chance.

Howard’s counterpart in this opening series, Pekka Rinne, has also been one of the game’s best in the net.

Rinne had an NHL-best 43 wins in the 2011-12 campaign. Goaltending is crucial in the playoffs, and the Howard-Rinne matchup should be a great one to watch. Each net-minder will make their fair share of dramatic and acrobatic saves with the game on the line.

Nashville is led offensively by Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist. Erat leads the team with 58 points and Hornqvist has a team-high 27 goals.

Those two can be lethal for Nashville’s power play unit, which scored on a league-best 21.6 percent of its chances. Detroit’s penalty kill was mediocre at best, killing off 81.8 percent of their penalties, which ranked 18th in the NHL. With the return of Howard and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, that number could certainly improve.

One area where the Red Wings have a certain advantage is postseason experience, which can sometimes trump any other factor. Of the current roster, 12 players have won at least one Stanley Cup in the Motor City. Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom have done it four times.12

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