Internet Hotstove is a series where Last Word On Sports asks the opinions of respected bloggers from around the internet about their team’s chances in the 2013-14 NHL Playoffs. The goal is to get a broad view of opinion from around the league as an alternative to other playoff previews.
Of the 23 straight seasons that the Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs, this year has been unquestionably the most surprising. While many considered them to be a playoff team prior to the season, they were not particularly impressive out of the game. Jimmy Howard struggled, and the team slipped further and further away from a playoff spot. But, as they always do, Detroit found a way. Without Zetterberg and Datsyuk the heroic performance on this occasion fell the Gustav Nyquist, the NHL’s hottest player down the stretch. The Wings already had to fight a battle just to be a part of the 2013-14 Playoffs. They are ready for another.
Meet the Bloggers:
Paul Kukla- Founder of KuklasKorner.Com @KuklasKorner
Peter Fish- Editor of OctopusThrower.Com @KinFin
1. Which player is the playoff x- factor for the Wings?
Kukla: It has to be goaltender Jimmy Howard. Detroit fans always expect their playoff goaltender to make the stops at key times and no bad goals. It has been an up and down season for Howard, here is his chance to prove he is a top NHL goaltender.
Fish: Gustav Nyquist. He has been incredible for the Red Wings since January 20th and although he has cooled down, he can spark back up at any moment. Nyquist has been most dangerous on the Detroit Red Wings top line, but he can be placed on any line due to his versatility. Mike Babcock will find a mismatch he likes and let Nyquist loose.
2. This team comes into the playoffs having had to fight their way down the stretch. Does this ultimately help them in the first round and beyond?
Kukla: It certainly cannot hurt, but you are always concerned with the team saying “well we made it” and then relax just a bit. But I don’t think Mike Babcock will allow that to happen.
Fish: I do not believe it will affect the Red Wings in a negative or positive way once the playoffs begin because they do not play Boston until Friday; a whole five days after the season ended for Detroit. If the playoffs began on Wednesday it would have been an asset for this team, but instead they will have to start from scratch and generate luck in Boston.
3. Of all the 23 straight years that the Wings have made the playoffs was this the most surprising?
Kukla: No doubt. I am sure many thought the Wings were dead right after the Olympic break. People were saying they were okay with missing the playoffs and were prepared for it, knowing it was going to end at some time, but the Wings again proved many doubters wrong.
Fish: It has become an expectation for the Red Wings to make the playoffs and the only way I would be surprised is if they did not make it. The year will come when that will happen, but I believe it is still a few years off in the distance.
4. Jimmy Howard has had a tough year between the pipes. Do you think he has returned to form in time for the playoffs?
Kukla: We will find out on Friday night. I am not sure what happened this season, maybe Howard was caught up early in the year of trying to impress the USA Hockey group of his worthiness of being an Olympic pick. Then injuries hit him a few times but now all he has to do is go out and play.
He can turn this season into a positive by leading his team to a long playoff run. He has the ability to get hot and now is the time to do so.
Fish: Jimmy Howard has had a rough season, but in his last five games he seems to have turned his luck around. He has averaged a .920 SV% and 2 GA, while winning four out of those five games. Howard is trending in the right direction for Detroit and he has been a force for Detroit in the playoff over the last four seasons, averaging .918 SV% and 2.57 GAA. Fans tend to discount Howard, but he comes up big for the Red Wings when the pressure is on.
5. How far do you think the Wings will go in this year’s playoffs?
Kukla: Looking at all the “hockey experts” picks, I don’t believe I have seen anyone pick Detroit over Boston in round 1 but this is why they play the game.
My personal opinion is the Wings will make it to game seven in the first round, then…. Who knows!
Fish: I would not be a fan if I did not believe the Red Wings could make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, but it is more likely that they will falter before reaching the Finals. I believe the Red Wings will be able best the Bruins in round one, as they have had the Bruins number all season, but will struggle and ultimately be knocked out in the second round against either Montreal or Tampa Bay. If the Red Wings manage to get past the second round, I would be hard pressed not to call them favorites for the Stanley Cup, though.
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