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Game Preview: Red Wings at Avalanche, 8:00 PM

It’s hard to not be excited for a Detroit/Colorado matchup. This was THE premier rivalry of the 90s and early 2000s. But you all know that. Ah, the days when a minor faceoff could result in a total donnybrook, complete with goalie fights!

The last mid-season on-ice brawl between the Wings and Avs was in March of 2002. Kirk Maltby was shoved into Patrick Roy’s net, Roy started punching the hell out of Maltby, and all hell broke loose. Even Dominik Hasek got in on the proceedings, skating all the way down the ice with his fists clenched, only to slip on an errant glove or stick and slide into Roy, knocking Goalie Enemy #1 into his own net. Granted, the referees separated the two before much damage could be done, and it doesn’t hold a candle to Mike Vernon’s 1997 beatdown of Roy or Chris Osgood’s 1998 pummeling of Roy, but I still fondly remember the refs holding the two legendary goalies back as they screamed profane insults at each other in Czech and French.

I have full faith that either Jimmy Howard or Ty Conklin (particularly Howard, who’s shown himself to be, let us say, a feisty goaltender) could take either Semyon Varlamov or Jean-Sebastien Giguere in a rumble, but I don’t think we’ll see it tonight. The bad blood between the two teams has died down considerably over the last few years as players have moved on or retired, and the “rivalry” has become notoriously one-sided. Its real last gasp was the epic seven game Western Conference Finals in 2002. I pinpoint the moment the rivalry died as Roy giving up the infamous Statue of Liberty goal in Game 6. After that, Game 7 was nothing more than harvesting the organs. The competition has never been the same since. The Wings have stayed relevant in the playoff race every single season thereafter. The Avalanche, well, haven’t.

The Red Wings will be starting Conklin tonight, finally giving Howard a rest after 17 consecutive starts. Conk’s last game at the Pepsi Center was a 3-0 shutout on October 8th, so Mike Babcock is hoping for a repeat of that performance to get Conklin back in the rotation after two subsequent miserable performances leading to him being benched for Howard ever since. Babcock, not being one to change a formula that’s been working, plans no further changes to the lineup from last game. Cory Emmerton and Mike Commodore will be healthy scratches. The first line of Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, and Todd Bertuzzi, and the second line of Henrik Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula, and Jiri Hudler, hope to continue the magnificent offensive chemistry they’ve developed over the last several games.

For the Avalanche, Varlamov will start in goal. The Avs could be looking at the return of defenseman Erik Johnson tonight from a groin injury; he’ll be a game time decision. Colorado comes in to this game on a two game winning streak, having defeated the St. Louis Blues in a 3-2 shootout win on Friday. Coach Joe Sacco has created a bit of danger in the offense by moving veteran Milan Hejduk to Ryan O’Reilly’s line, so look for Babcock to be careful about which lines and defensive pairings he has out there.

The key to winning tonight for Detroit? I know it’s a total hockey cliche, but they’ve got to play the full 60 minutes. They’ve been totally dominant in first periods, outscoring opponents 10 goals to 1 over the last seven games, but third periods? Not so much. The other issue is goaltending. Conklin is likely to have some bench rust, and he probably doesn’t feel too much confidence right now. The Wings defense will need to give him extra help that Howard hasn’t needed until he’s made a few saves and gets his goalie groove back. Even if Conklin is shaky, if the Wings’ surging offense led by Franzen and the surprising Filppula can keep things going, we should see the boys head out of the Pepsi Center with a win.

Let’s go, Red Wings! *clap clap clapclapclap*