In a post I wrote on this site in August of last year, I bet that the Red Wings would not only make the playoffs, but advance deep in the postseason. Well it’s time to cash in on that bet. If Detroit beats the Boston Bruins tonight at the TD Garden they qualify for the playoffs for the 25th consecutive season. As a matter of fact, if Detroit beats Boston tonight and the Tampa Bay Lightning, currently second place in the Atlantic Division and only two points better than Detroit (95-93), loses at New Jersey Detroit, the Wings could still earn second place in the division, in addition secure a home playoff series.
To say the streak isn’t a tremendous accomplishment is asinine. But some Red Wings fans, some beat writers and other supporters have become spoiled during this run. There has even been hoopla about whether the streak is/has been bad for the franchise. The basic theory is that because the Wings’ management refuses to allow this team to tank so that a full rebuild can take place, the team has been stuck in mediocrity and are only chasing a playoff streak.
This type of reasoning is not only ill-advised, but sort of pompous. The possibility of this franchise continuing a post season streak of this magnitude should be celebrated not questioned. But worrying about a streak is for another time and place. History will be the ultimate judge of this feat. Reports have even started to circulate that suggests Pavel Datsyuk may return to Russia at season’s end. Again, the Wings’ management can deal with that issue later. This is about this time and place. This is about a potential playoff clinching game, on the road, against Boston. This isn’t about worrying whether Detroit acquiring a top 10 pick is going to bring them any closer to a Stanley Cup in three years than where they have already been or are going right now.
The NHL playoff format is simple: the top three teams in each division earn playoffs spots. The next two teams in total points in the conference earn wild card spots. Current playoff projections have Detroit starting its Stanley Cup quest against Tampa Bay. Tampa and Detroit have met four times in the regular season with both teams winning twice. These teams actually match up fairly well. Tampa has a slight advantage in goals/game (2.7 compared to Detroit’s 2.6), but a hot goal keeper can change that very quickly. And remember, the Wings took a deeper Lightning team to game seven last year (albeit they did blow a 3-2 series lead). The Red Wings played that deciding game seven without top defenseman Niklas Kronwall; suspended for something that happened in Game 6 even though he wasn’t penalized for charging. So to say the Wings would go into a series against the Lightning and be outmatched is a misguided thought.
The biggest question for Detroit isn’t about a streak, but rather about Jimmy Howard in-goal. He is in net against Boston tonight and Coach Bashill should keep him as the teams’ goalie throughout the playoffs. Overall, younger goaltender, Petr Mrazek has had a better season (27-16-6, 2.35 GAA, 92% save percentage) than Jimmy Howard (14-12, 2.72 GAA, 91% save percentage). But Mrazek he has been terrible of late, getting pulled in a loss to Montreal in March after allowing two goals on seven shots and also Howard has the experience. And Howard’s performance against the Flyers last night, by stopping all 30 shots, reminded everyone what type of goaltender he can be when he’s on his game.
The NHL playoffs are sometimes more about luck than skill anyway. And the separation between the teams that qualify for the playoffs is so slim that all sixteen have a legitimate shot at the cup. For the Red Wings, fifteen players on the current roster are 27 or younger. And Dylan Larkin is 19 years old!!! So lets embrace the journey that this team continues to take us on while also realizing that things change. Players change. Coaches change. The one thing that doesn’t change is the Red Wings’ play at least four extras games in April every year.