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Five reasons Red Wings clinched playoff berth

Goaltending, coaching and experience was key for Detroit

by David Satriano @davidsatriano

It didn't always look promising, but the Detroit Red Wings' Stanley Cup Playoffs streak goes on.

Detroit stretched its postseason streak to 25 seasons, the longest current run among the four major North American pro sports leagues, and will play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round next week.

The Red Wings started the season with a new coach, a mix of veterans and rookies and two goalies, but made it work, just as they have for the past quarter century. Detroit has been the model of consistency in the NHL for the past two decades and always seems to overcome the odds and qualify for the playoffs.

Here are five reasons the Red Wings clinched:

Video: PIT@DET: Mrazek makes a beautiful kick save

1. Emergence of Petr Mrazek  

Mrazek played in 26 games last season and figured to challenge Jimmy Howard as the Red Wings' No. 1 goaltender. Mrazek earned the job not long after this season began and has been outstanding for the most part. Other than a recent rough stretch, Mrazek carried Detroit, going 27-16-6 with a 2.35 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and four shutouts.

When Mrazek hasn't been on his game, Howard has come through. He won his first three starts in April, including a 30-save shutout against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday.

2. Dylan Larkin

Although fellow rookies Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel were more highly touted entering the League, Larkin has had an impressive first season. He led the Red Wings with 23 goals and ranks in the top five in goals and points among rookies. Larki, who finished with a plus-11 ranking, has been an important for Detroit offensively and defensively.
Larkin, 19, uses his speed to generate chances for himself and his teammates, and had 221 shots on goal this season. He became the first teenager to make the Red Wings roster since 1999, and has benefited from playing on a line with Henrik Zetterberg a good part of the season.

"[Larkin has] done a good job," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said on March 25. "He's been given a heck of an opportunity, too, and earned that early and continued to get that and played with really good players. It's a combination of young guy who's very talented and who's driven, likes to shoot the puck, and combined with playing with real good players and getting real good opportunity."

Video: WPG@DET: Larkin records his 20th goal of the season

3. Jeff Blashill

The second-youngest coach in the League, Blashill, 41, won his first three games with the Red Wings this season before losing the next four. It hasn't been easy, but he has found a way to fix problems before they snowballed. Blashill already knew most of the team from his time as an assistant with the Red Wings in 2010-11 and as the coach of Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League, where he was the past three seasons helping groom many of the young, talented players on the Red Wings roster.

General manager Ken Holland said Blashill wasn't concerned about the Red Wings' playoff streak being in jeopardy.

"I think Jeff Blashill is concerned on a day-to-day basis with the process and making adjustments and doing things with the roster," Holland told Sportsnet in March. "Having [the leadership group we have] through these playoff races. ... He's got some people on his staff that have the experience and we are resources for him as he goes through his decision-making process."

Video: PIT@DET: Green nets power-play goal on floating shot

4. Veteran influence

Defenseman Mike Green and center Brad Richards signed with Detroit in the offseason. Green, 30, leads Red Wings defensemen in points (35) and is a puck-controlling point man on the power-play, where he has 19 points. Richards, 36, has won the Stanley Cup twice, including last season with the Chicago Blackhawks, and has been a good depth center for Detroit.

Green and Richards added leadership to a group that already included Pavel Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall, among others.

5. Old reliables

It's no surprise the Red Wings' top two leading scorers are Zetterberg (50 points) and Datsyuk (49). The two have been the faces of the franchise for more than a decade. Zetterberg, 35, did not miss a game this season. Datsyuk, 37, scored his 300th NHL goal and 900th NHL point earlier this season. The pair continues to produce and as long as they continue, Detroit never should be counted out.

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