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Five reasons Red Wings clinched playoff berth

by David Satriano / NHL.com

Six Detroit Red Wings weren't even born the last time they didn't make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Red Wings clinched a playoff berth for the 24th straight season Thursday, tied for the fourth longest streak in NHL history. They haven't missed the postseason since the 1989-90 season.

"People talk about 24 years, but for me 10 years since the lockout, we're the only team in the National Hockey League to make it all 10 times," coach Mike Babcock said Thursday. "The last three years, we've been grinding to get in. We changed our group totally, and to find a way has been incredible."

Here are five reasons the Red Wings clinched a playoff berth:

1. Veteran presence

Arguably the two most important players, forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, each played in significantly more games than last season. Datsyuk recently missed time but returned Saturday and has 65 points (25 goals) in 63 games. Zetterberg has 17 goals and 66 points in 77 games. They have provided veteran leadership to many of the younger players.

Pavel Datsyuk
Center - DET
GOALS: 26 | ASST: 39 | PTS: 65
SOG: 165 | +/-: 12
Datsyuk played 47 games in 2013-14 and missed substantial time with a concussion. Zetterberg played 45 games, limited by back surgery.

2. Coaching

Babcock has been in the playoffs in 11 of his 12 seasons, missing out in 2003-04 when he was coach of the Anaheim Ducks.

But this season, he did perhaps his finest job. Veteran forwards Stephen Weiss and Johan Franzen missed large portions of the season, causing Babcock to give more playing time to young players Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen, who responded. Forward Luke Glendening had one goal last season and has 12 this season, and Babcock has been credited with his development.

"I just didn't think we were good enough, just not good enough, so I didn't know some of the kids could be as good as they were," Babcock said.

Babcock also managed a tough situation in goal and wasn't afraid to bench starter Jimmy Howard for backup Petr Mrazek, who is 15-9-2 with a .914 save percentage in 28 games. When defenseman Marek Zidlicky was acquired in a trade from the New Jersey Devils, Babcock put him on the power play and has been rewarded; Zidlicky has three goals and 11 points in 20 games with Detroit, including eight on the power play.

3. The young guns

Forward Tomas Tatar is having a breakout season with 29 goals and 55 points. On a team with Datsyuk and Zetterberg, he is the Red Wings leader in goals, game-winning goals (seven) and shots (211).

Justin Abdelkader
Left Wing - DET
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 44
SOG: 154 | +/-: 3
Forward Justin Abdelkader has been a mainstay in the Red Wings lineup since the 2009-2010 season but never scored more than 10 goals in a season, which he did each of the past two. He has 23 goals, fourth on the Red Wings, and 44 points. Abdelkader is tied for second with five game-winning goals.

"As a player, I feel more confident out there," Abdelkader told the Red Wings website. "I think this league is a tough league to come in as a young player. … I feel confident with the puck and am making good shots."

Tatar, Jurco and Pulkkinen are among the half-dozen players younger than 24.

4. Power play

The Red Wings rank first in the NHL converting on almost one-quarter of their power-play opportunities (23.9 percent). Their 70 power-play goals are first in the League, and they have scored at least one power-play goal in 52 games. Sixteen players have scored at least one goal with the man-advantage. Gustav Nyquist (14), Tatar (nine) and Datsyuk and Abdelkader (eight each) lead the team.

"Our power-play pretty much won us the game tonight," defenseman Kyle Quincey said after the Red Wings scored three power-play goals in a 6-3 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 6. "If our power play keeps clicking, we are very dangerous."

5. Western Conference dominance

The Red Wings competed in the Western Conference before moving to the Eastern last season. Detroit went 19-5-4 against Western Conference opponents this season, including 12-0-2 against the Central Division.

Getting points in 23 of 28 games against the West is a boost, considering Detroit is 23-20-10 against the East and needed almost every point they could get to keep their playoff streak alive.

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