Although the Presidents' Trophy is in their line of sight, the Chicago Blackhawks would be wise to keep an eye on the Detroit Red Wings.
Should the Blackhawks complete a season sweep by defeating their Original Six rival at the United Center on Friday, it could go a long way in perhaps ending Detroit's string of 21 consecutive postseason appearances. With just two wins in their last seven outings (2-4-1), the Red Wings are clinging to eighth place in the Western Conference - two points ahead of Phoenix with eight games remaining.
Chicago, which already has punched its ticket to the playoffs, sits two points ahead of Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh. Ray Emery continued his hot hand by securing his second 1-0 victory in three starts, with the most recent decision coming in Tuesday's triumph over Minnesota.
Emery has three shutouts in his last five outings, giving traditional starter Corey Crawford a run for his money and coach Joel Quenneville some food for thought as the postseason nears.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, NHL Network, RDS, FSN (Detroit), CSN (Chicago)
ABOUT THE RED WINGS (19-15-6): Jimmy Howard admitted - and general manager Ken Holland confirmed - that Detroit is close to signing the talented goaltender to a six-year contract extension. Financial terms weren't released, but TSN reported the deal was worth $31.8 million.
"I wanted to be here," the 29-year-old Howard said. "I get along great with everyone here. I believe in this organization. I just want to be here and get the job done."
Howard made 28 saves on Thursday but was unable to prevent Patrick Marleau from scoring in the third round of the shootout of San Jose's 3-2 victory.
ABOUT THE BLACKHAWKS (30-5-4): Crawford has been the netminder of record in all three of Chicago's victories over Detroit in 2013. After leading his team to a pair of 2-1 triumphs that extended beyond regulation, Crawford watched an offensive explosion as the Blackhawks spoiled Gordie Howe's 85th birthday with a 7-1 rout on March 31. Former Red Wing Marian Hossa missed that contest with an upper-body injury but did score the lone goal on Tuesday. The veteran has 23 points in 29 career games versus Detroit.
1. Detroit D Jakub Kindl netted his first career power-play goal on Thursday. He has just one assist in 10 lifetime contests versus Chicago.
2. Blackhawks C Dave Bolland returned to practice on Thursday but is not expected to play against the Red Wings. He is nursing a lower-body injury.
3. Howard has struggled against Chicago, posting a 4-7-4 career mark.