While Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings meet for the final time in the regular season as members of the same conference Friday night, it might not be the last the Original Six rivals face each other over the next few weeks.
In a potential first-round playoff preview, the NHL-leading Blackhawks look to complete their first season sweep of their archrival in 36 years with a seventh consecutive victory over the visiting Red Wings.
When the NHL's newest realignment plan debuts in 2013-14, Detroit (19-15-6) will move to the Eastern Conference while Chicago (30-5-4) remains in the West. The Red Wings, along with Columbus, welcome the change as the only two teams currently in West from the Eastern time zone.
Though the Blackhawks won't see much of their biggest rival in future seasons, they could meet this postseason with Chicago atop the West and Detroit owning the conference's eighth and final playoff spot.
That might be an ideal matchup for Chicago, which has won six straight in the series and earned at least one point in the last nine (7-0-2). A single goal decided nine consecutive meetings between the teams before the Blackhawks won 7-1 at Joe Louis Arena on March 31.
Chicago has not swept a season series from the Red Wings since winning all four in 1976-77.
"We know how disappointed they were from the last game, especially since it happened in their building, and they're going to want some revenge," said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who has a goal and three assists versus Detroit in 2013.
Corey Crawford will be in net after Ray Emery got each start during Chicago's current three-game winning streak and posted 1-0 shutouts in two of them, including Tuesday at Minnesota. The pair's goals against per game of 2.03 is the lowest in the NHL.
Crawford has a 1.15 goals-against average during his five-game winning streak versus Detroit, and stopped 94 of 97 shots in the three meetings this season.
"I think there's a lot of confidence, and we're excited for whoever is in net,' said forward Patrick Kane, who has a team-leading 46 points but only one against the Red Wings in 2013. "I think right now we're pretty confident in our team. Just try to keep getting better.'
Looking to make its 22nd consecutive playoff appearance, Detroit has a two-point lead over Phoenix for the final postseason spot but has dropped two in a row and five of seven.
"Anybody that has been in the playoffs knows they're pretty special,' said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock after his team's 3-2 home shootout loss to San Jose on Thursday. "You got to earn your right to play a playoff game.'
Henrik Zetterberg had an assist, giving him four in four games since missing two, including the latest with Chicago, because of a groin injury. He has three assists in his last three at the United Center.
Detroit is 10 for 33 (30.3 percent) on the power play in the last nine road games after it went 0 for 36 in the first 10 away from home. The Red Wings are 0 for 10 on the power play this season versus Chicago, which is 18 of 18 on the penalty kill in the last 11 contests overall.
Jimmy Howard, who is nearing an agreement on a six-year deal with Detroit, made 28 saves Thursday. He has a 2.44 GAA while losing his last five to the Blackhawks, but was pulled after allowing four goals on 14 shots in the last meeting.
The Associated Press News Service
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