Red Wings celebrate TUNE IN TUESDAY

DETROIT -- Five games. That’s all that matters now for the Detroit Red Wings.

Five games to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in eight seasons, starting with a nationally televised matchup with one of their direct competitors, the Washington Capitals, at Little Caesars Arena on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN).

“We would have taken this,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “This would have been a dream scenario for us going into this season, and now we’re here. How are we going to handle it on Tuesday?”

Good question.

The Red Wings have been riding huge ups and downs lately. They had an eight-point cushion in the playoff race Feb. 29, then lost it by losing seven straight in regulation. They have gone 5-4-2 since, bouncing above and below the cut line in a tight multiteam race.

With a 3-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres at home on Sunday, the Red Wings (84 points) leapfrogged the Pittsburgh Penguins (83), Philadelphia Flyers (83) and Capitals (82) into the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. A few hours later, the Capitals pulled within a point with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators.

Then on Monday, the Penguins moved into a tie with the Red Wings, who have one game in hand, following a 3-2 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“We’re slowly gobbling some points, keeping ourselves in the fight, and we’ve been getting some help around the League,” Lalonde said. “But it comes to a point (where) we’ve got to take care of ourselves. … I think it’s managing your emotions, staying in the fight, not getting too high, too low. And it’s not easy to do.”

The Red Wings will play their biggest game in years Tuesday. Then they’ll do it again when they visit the Penguins on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; SN-PIT, BSDET, SNP, SNW, SNE). They visit the Maple Leafs on Saturday, host the Montreal Canadiens on April 15 and visit the Canadiens on April 16.

“I honestly didn’t know that we had the Capitals and the Penguins coming up,” goalie Alex Lyon said. “I knew that we had important games. But I think that living in the moment and staying day by day is absolutely crucial this time of year -- and remaining calm in critical situations. And I talk about that all the time. But that’s what the best players do.”

That seems hard to believe. That seems cliche. How could Lyon not know the Red Wings had the Capitals and the Penguins coming up? Don’t athletes always talk about living in the moment?

But remember that Lyon started the Florida Panthers’ final eight regular-season games last season. He went 6-1-1 with a 1.87 goals-against average and .943 save percentage, helping them squeak into the second wild card in the East, one point ahead of the Penguins and Sabres.

Before that, he had played only 31 NHL games over six seasons. He learned from the experience, which included some wise words from forward Eric Staal, who had played more than 1,350 NHL games over 18 seasons.

“I remember one time,” Lyon said. “I was pretty nervous, and Eric Staal, just … I said, like, ‘What do you got for me?’ He played for so long. But he’s like, ‘You know what? I just stay in the moment. I don’t really care about anything else.’ That was good advice, I think. It’s served me well.

“It’s a hard thing to do and an easy thing to say. But I think that’s what we’ve got to do, is just stay in the moment.”

If you stay in the moment, it can help keep the moment from getting too big.

The Red Wings must think small.

They’ve struggled with poor starts this season, and they have to focus on coming out strong like they did Sunday, when they took a 3-0 lead against the Sabres in the first 7:37 on goals by forwards Lucas Raymond, Patrick Kane and Dylan Larkin.

“I think it’s a lot about mindset, that we come out and really play our game, because when we play our game, we know we can compete with any team in this league,” Raymond said.

They’ve struggled defensively this season, and they have to focus on keeping the puck out of their net like they did Sunday, when Lyon made 37 saves and his teammates blocked 27 shots. Defenseman Moritz Seider, who turned 23 on Saturday and is in his first playoff race, blocked 10 himself.

“Winning is hard, and we’re finding out how hard it is, especially real hockey,” said Lalonde, who won the Stanley Cup as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020 and 2021. “It’s the National Hockey League. Everything’s tough. But this is next-level-type stuff.”

Five games. One at a time.

“The reality is, if we get the job done here, then we’re going to have more difficult games after that, and your reward is just to play more hockey and more difficult games,” Lyon said. “You really can’t think too far in the future; you can’t worry about the past.”