With the Red Wings only having one game in 10 days between their loss to the Hawks and their final 3 game day flurry to end the season it’s time to look at some of their potential first round opponents. Unfortunately the Western Conference playoff match up picture is still so clouded that there are as many as 6 potential opponents for the Wings but we will only focus on the four most probable – Dallas, San Jose, Vancouver, and Columbus. Dallas Stars If the playoffs were to start today the four vs. five seed matchup would feature the Wings and Stars with the Stars having a 2-0 season record against the Wings. In the Stars the Wings face one the leagues best balanced defensive units that features the leagues top point producing dman (McCabe) and includes physical defensive stalwart Mathias Norstrom. Even if they get past the defence the Wings have to face Mikka Kiprusoff between the pipes. Up front the Stars forwards have been highly effective all season long with Horcoff, Koivu, Parise, Yashin, et. al and with the trade deadline addition of Martin St. Louis they have become a force. Dallas is balanced enough that there are no obvious areas for an opponent to exploit and have put up very similar team stats to that of the Wings. The deciding factor in any potential matchup between these two teams could be the powerplay. The Stars are amongst the league’s most penalized teams however they also have one of the best penalty killing records while the Wings powerplay units have underperformed. Solving these PP issues would be essential for the Wings to move on. San Jose Sharks With the closeness of the point races between the Wings and Blues and the Sharks and Stars, it is very possible a Sharks victory over the Wings on the last day of the regular season would set up this first round match up. Playing a high flying team like the Sharks, Detroit would likely have to focus on a defensive strategy to limit the number of scoring opportunities for San Jose’s top two lines. The Wings will also need to play a controlled game emotionally to limit their penalties as San Jose boasts the most lethal PP at over 20% The ‘X’ factor will be former Red Wing players. With 3 former Wings (Roberts, Osgood, and Huet) playing for the Sharks they might still hold lingering resentment towards GM Niece. Vancouver Canucks A team that is better than their position suggests and one the Wings do not take lightly. The Canucks put themselves in an early season hole that saw them near the bottom of the conference approaching the 20 game mark before shaking up their lines and making a series of trades. The end result of all those changes was one of the best records in the second half of the season. While Detroit won both match-ups against Vancouver this season they were close games and a series between these two teams could go to 6 or 7 games. The key to this series could be depth. The Wings will not be able to keep players like Markus Naslund and super rookie Eric Staal off the scoreboard and will instead look to counter with some balanced scoring from their four lines. Columbus Blue Jackets With the Blues finding their game again of late and the Jackets suddenly enduring a rash of injuries on defence this is rapidly looking like the least likely of the four potential matchups but one the Wings would prefer. The Wings had a 5-3 record against their division rivals this season with two of the those losses happening early in the season when Brodeur, Kozlov, and Shanahan were still there. In a series against the Jackets the Wings would likely look to play a more offensive game instead of their traditional balanced attack as the current Jacket’s lineup is best suited to grinding out low scoring one goal victories.