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In Detroit, we're not used to this

by Paul Kukla
The Detroit Red Wings barely are hanging on in the playoff race in the Western Conference. Sitting in the eighth position, the Wings are only four points out of the sixth seed, but are only five points ahead of the 13th seed.

All of this is highly unusual for a Wings fan.

What is going on?

I will be the first to say the Detroit Red Wings have had it fairly easy the past 18 or so years. The regular season was looked upon by Wings fans as a tune-up for the playoffs. Now, our team is fighting to just make the playoffs.

Yes, this is all new to us and quite frankly, very hard on the nerves. This time of year we are normally observing other teams, either to watch their style of play in case we were to meet up in the playoffs or to pick out a player we felt the Wings could trade for to help them in the playoffs.

Instead, Wings fans now are watching other games, hoping a team ahead of them in the standings loses a game in regulation, thereby not receiving any points in the standings. Now, every point counts.

Instead of hearing, "Let's get the season over with, we are ready for the playoffs to start," we now hear, "This game is a must-win, we can't afford to lose ground in the playoff race."

All this is new to fans of the winged-wheel, and maybe an eye-opening experience, too. Instead of reading about how other fan bases have struggled with their team's performance, Wings fans now are experiencing it first-hand.

On top of all of this, when Johan Franzen returns to action in about a week after a lengthy injury, the Wings will have to make a move or two in order to stay under the salary cap. This time of year the Wings normally would be adding a player or two; now it is reversed.

When early April rolls around, I fully expect Detroit to be in the playoff picture, but when the season started I didn't foresee the Wings being in the position they are in at this moment. So I can't say with 100 percent certainty the Wings once again will be playing in the second season.

The Wings used to be able to control their own destiny in the regular season, but now other factors are tossed in. Will a few teams go on an extended winning streak, making it much more difficult for the Wings to earn a playoff position? Will the Wings ever get over the hump themselves, get out of the pattern of win, lose, then lose in overtime and start the pattern all over again?

Without a doubt, this has been the most stressful regular season for a Wings fan in recent memory. I go way back, so I have experienced both the good and bad years, but just imagine the younger fans -- they don't know what it is like to be in a playoff race, let alone not making the playoffs.

When I am asked if the Detroit Red Wings will make the playoffs, my response is "Believe in Nick." You see, Wings captain Niklas Lidstrom never has missed the playoffs in his NHL career. We only can hope his streak continues for at least one more season.

Now it is time for me to go and plan my hockey viewing schedule for the next two weeks. Calgary plays ... Nashville plays ... Colorado plays ... oh boy, a lot of nerve-racking nights ahead.

As always, feel free to e-mail me at, follow me on Twitter or visit Kukla's Korner for the latest hockey talk.
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