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And then there was eight.

By: Channing Cummins

The Detroit Red Wings will take on the Nashville Predators on Saturday night, with only eight games remaining in the regular season. They currently hold the eigth spot in the Western Conference, six ahead of the Calgary Flames. The Wings are also tied with the Colorado Avalanche and within two points of two additional teams. Now we're left to wonder where this team may end up and what can possibly be in store. Can we really be surprised?

Lets take a quick recap of some of recent sports history...
The most recent has to be the NCAA Tournament. Its been an upset special every night and totally unpredictable. In fact, out of the 4.8 million people that filled out an ESPN online bracket only 3 people were perfect after the FIRST round. By far one of the best tournaments we've had in awhile but much to learn. Anyone can win on a given night and you may never know who can step it up.

Now for our second lesson to be learned. If you don't finish the season strong you may miss the playoffs. Prime example, is the 2009 Detroit Tigers. This was a team that went through a substantial end of the season collapse, leading to their "tie-breaker" loss and costing them the division, along with the playoffs. As the Twins moved on, the Tigers were left to wonder what had just happened. The Chicago White Sox, a tough division rival, were able to steal two games from the Tigers in the last series, which also cost the Tigers the playoffs.

Now as we look ahead at our last eight games we're left to wonder what may happen. There might be a slight problem that lies ahead that can't be overlooked, which has to be our opponents in the remaining games. Nashville for 2, Columbus for 3 and Chicago for the last game.

If there was a team that could destroy the Wings' season it would have to be the Blue Jackets. They're strictly playing to upset teams and alter the playoffs, as they hold the worst spot in the division. Not to mention that the Red Wings have a tendency to struggle with Jackets and they are a division rival. All focus should be put on Rick Nash and they will be better off.

Then we're left with the Predators for two games. This is the team that currently occupies the fifth spot in the conference, only two points ahead of the Wings. Along with being another division rival, they've also been a team that has always played the Wings strong. And how bout that last game? The Chicago Blackhawks...enough said. The team will also take on the Oilers and Flyers this year, which should prove to be good games. If these games are overlooked and the Wings fail to finish strong, there's always that chance for a Calgary comeback.

As we do look ahead into the playoffs we can't help but look ahead at our possible opponents. As of now the Wings would take on the San Jose Sharks but the Hawks are a mere point back. Both teams have played strong all year and will become a challenge for any team.

The San Jose Sharks are a strong veteran team, which is key when the playoffs begin. Injuries, cold streaks, clutch goals and pressure moments are all ways a veteran can stand out from others. Their leadership with Thornton and Marleau will prove to be key as well, along with the goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. A monstrous goaltender performance can steal any series and Nabokov has the potential to do so.

The Chicago Blackhawks provide another tough challenge for the Wings. Their original six rivalry has increased in the last couple years and this would become a stellar series. With the two sport towns going at it, only one will be able to come out on top. The Hawks bring their speed to the table along with their constant pressure. They can cause turnovers, which has been haunting the Wings' defense all year.

Their weaknesses include youth and goaltending. Although youth if often looked at to be a strength, it can also become your greatest weakness. A complete blowout can rattle the team hard or a tough loss can have an effect. With youth comes a lack of strong leadership, which once again can become key. The playoffs will bring pressure situations and players will have to step up. Their goaltending has to be questioned as well. Huet gave up seven goals to the Jackets Thursday night and has fallen apart numerous times. Backup goalie Antti Niemi has succeeded against the Wings but has no playoff experience.

With our eight games remaining the Wings will have to strive for excellence. They should look for a few things going in and will need to gain momentum as they try to enter the playoffs. The first thing that must be focused on is our veteran play. Players like Lids, Dats, Z, The Mule, Homer and Ralfs will need to finish the season strong, gaining confidence as they enter the realm.

The goaltending situation will also be important to focus on as we look to enter the post season. Jimmy Howard will get the starts but with no playoff experience and lack of experience around, it can prove to be a dangerous move. Yes, Chris Osgood is our back up, but what has he really done this year? He played a minimal amount of games and has showed us that his age is taking over his career. Either way the Wings must have some concern when it comes to their goaltending.

The Red Wings will also have to put focus on their third and fourth lines. These players have been performing all year and have stepped up in crucial situations. Players like Draper, Helm and Eaves will need to provide an all out effort every night to help out their top lines. These lines possess the ability to win games and they must remain focused as they finish the year.

And then there was eight. Eight games remaining and the Red Wings will have to finish strong if they want to become a force in the 2010 playoffs.


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