(Sports Network) - The well-rested Chicago Blackhawks will get back to work tonight, as they host the rival Detroit Red Wings in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals at the United Center.
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The top-seeded Blackhawks ousted Minnesota in five games during the opening round and haven't played since beating the Wild by a 5-1 score last Thursday. Although the series ended with a lopsided win, the Presidents' Trophy winners had to work hard earlier in the first round.
The Blackhawks needed overtime to win the opener against eighth-seeded Minnesota and even lost Game 3 in OT before eventually closing out the series in five. After a 3-0 win in Game 4 and the 5-1 decision in the series clincher, the Blackhawks wound up outscoring the Wild by a 17-7 margin in the series.
Chicago wore down the Wild in Round 1 thanks to its superior depth at both ends on the ice. The deep roster includes plenty of familiar faces from the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup championship team of 2010. Forwards Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland and defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson all helped Chicago lift the Cup three years ago and head coach Joel Quenneville can lean heavily on that postseason experience this spring.
Sharp and Hossa paced Chicago with six points apiece in the opening round. Sharp, who had 11 goals during the Blackhawks' title run in 2010, notched five goals and one assist against Minnesota, while Hossa had three goals and three helpers.
Every Chicago forward who played in all five games during the first round registered at least a point and nine of those players had at least two points.
The Blackhawks also will get centerman Dave Bolland back for the start of Round 2. Bolland missed the entire first series with a lower-body injury, but is ready to go for Game 1 against Detroit.
Chicago said on Wednesday that Viktor Stalberg will not play in Game 1. Coach Joel Quenneville says it's a "coach's decision" and Stalberg could get back on the ice at any point in the series. He says he has talked to Stalberg about the decision to bench him for Wednesday night's series opener.
Stalberg, one of the fastest skaters on the team, has been working outside of the top four lines in practice, so the move was not a complete surprise. But Stalberg had nine goals and 14 assists in 47 games this season, then had a big assist and a plus-2 rating while playing all five games in the first round against Minnesota.
Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford had a terrific start to this year's playoffs, posting 1.32 goals against average and .950 save percentage over five games. The 28-year-old is now 9-9 with a 2.11 GAA in 19 career playoff games.
Crawford started 28 games for Chicago in the regular season, while 19 starts went to Ray Emery, who was unavailable in the first round due to a lower-body injury. However, Emery, who posted an amazing 17-1-0 record this season, is ready to back up Crawford at the start of this series. Emery is 20-15 with a 2.57 GAA and .903 save percentage in 36 career playoff games.
The Red Wings fought hard to make the playoffs for the 22nd straight season in 2013 and the seventh-seeded club proved it still belongs there with an upset of Anaheim in Round 1.
Although Detroit's seventh-place finish in the West is the club's worst seeding since it last missed the postseason in 1989-90, the Red Wings knocked off the second-seeded Ducks in seven games during this year's conference quarterfinals.
The Red Wings now find themselves in the conference semifinals for the sixth time in seven seasons after getting bounced out by Nashville in the opening round last spring.
Detroit used a balanced scoring attack and timely stops from goaltender Jimmy Howard to outlast the Ducks in seven games.
The Red Wings had six forwards post two or more goals in the battle against Anaheim. Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen led the way with three goals each, while Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Cleary, Damien Brunner and Justin Abdelkader notch two goals apiece.
Zetterberg led the Red Wings with eight total points in the opening round and Datsyuk finished with seventh. This is Zetterberg's first postseason run as captain after he inherited the "C" following Nicklas Lidstrom's retirement last summer. The loss of Lidstrom still looms large on the blue line for Detroit, but the club did finish fifth in team defense this season with just 2.29 goals per game.
Howard had a busy series in net for Detroit in the conference quarters, as he faced an average of 32 shots per game against the Ducks. In the end, Howard posted a 2.74 GAA and .911 save percentage over the seven games and he proved his worth in close games, recording a 3-1 record in the four tests that went to overtime.
The 29-year-old Howard is 17-18 all-time in the playoffs with a 2.65 GAA and .914 save percentage.
Chicago won all four meetings in this year's season series and has claimed seven straight against the Red Wings overall. Three of the four encounters between the clubs ended after regulation, while the other contest was a 7-1 rout in Detroit on March 31. That blowout loss represented a season-high in goals allowed for the Red Wings, who have dropped nine of their last 10 games against Chicago.
"It's going to be fun to play them again," Zetterberg said. "They had our number in the regular season, so it's going to be a challenge for us. We've played better the last 10 games."
Chicago, which also gets to host Game 2 on Saturday, was 18-3-3 at the United Center this season before going 3-0 in home games in the opening round. Detroit was 11-9-4 as the guest in the regular season and split four games in Anaheim in the conference quarters.
The Central Division and Original Six foes also have met 15 times in the playoffs and Chicago has taken eight of those series. However, Detroit has taken the last two postseason encounters, including a five-game series win when the franchise's last met in the playoffs in the 2009 Western Conference finals.