Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Battle Preview: Red Wings visit MSG tonight

Hockey Town meets Broadway tonight at The Garden. Two Original Sixes the Red Wings and Rangers meet for the final time this season. Granted. They only play twice a year.

For Blueshirt fanatics, it's a chance to see one of the game's premier players in Pavel Datsyuk, who just returned a couple of games ago from a knee scope. And in my view, the best overall player in the game with apologies to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Datsyuk will never put up the gaudy numbers of either Pen star but he is the most complete player who magnifies with his blend of skating, skill, grit and attention to detail. He also is clean compared to his Russian comrade who will win the Hart in a runaway.

While the Pens continue to chase us for the top spot, the Wings are slumping due to health. Without Nick Lidstrom and a banged up Jimmy Howard, they're not the same. However, anytime the Rangers face them, it usually results in a loss. So, they better come ready. John Tortorella's club is fresh off the emotional 4-2 win over the Devils with plenty of discussion about the game's start. While Tort and Pete DeBoer exchanged barbs, it's time to put the hard hat on and get back to business.

The Rangers may get back Artem Anisimov, who declared that he felt great this morning. If so, I can't see how Mats Zuccarello stays out of the lineup. He's been a spark offensively, particularly on the power play and is playing more physical given his small stature. It's hard to say what I'd do with the lineup. I don't think you mess with chemistry. Keep RGH and USA together. Maybe slide Anisimov on the fourth line in place of Ruslan Fedotenko, who's not 100 percent. That would give the fourth line some skill while allowing Zucc to remain with Brian Boyle and John Mitchell.

Figure the blueline to stay the same with Tim Erixon in for Steve Eminger while Henrik Lundqvist should start against Ty Conklin. On paper, it seems like a mismatch. But given our history against backup goalies, the Rangers can't take anything for granted. Especially against the skilled Wings who still boast Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler and bruiser Nik Kronwall with Darren Helm and Johan Franzen sidelined. In other words, expect it to be competitive. Detroit has a lot of pride and want to get back on track.

The game will be another 7:30 start on NBC Sports Network with probably Doc Emrick calling the action. I'll be lucky if I catch any as I am heading into work now. Should be a good one.

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