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Red Wings scrambling to extend playoff streak

by Kevin Woodley /

VANCOUVER -- New defenseman Danny DeKeyser doesn't really know a world that doesn't include the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

DeKeyser was born a month before the last time the Red Wings missed the postseason.

Danny DeKeyser
Danny DeKeyser
Defense - DET
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 1
SOG: 8 | +/-: 0

Now, 22 years later, he is trying to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Signed in late March as a free agent after finishing his third season at Western Michigan, the Detroit native joined the team he grew up watching just in time for a playoff race it isn't accustomed to.

Detroit has made the playoffs for 21 straight seasons, the longest active streak in the NHL and tied for the fifth-longest in League history. But the Red Wings enter the next-to-last weekend of the season in 10th place in the Western Conference with five games left, putting the run in jeopardy. But as DeKeyser prepared to play his seventh NHL game Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks, he said history hasn't come up in the Detroit dressing room.

"I haven't heard anybody mention that," DeKeyser said of the streak. "There's always pressure when there are five games to go and you are not in a playoff spot yet. … But I haven't heard anybody in here say those words actually."

It doesn't mean that elephant isn't in the room.

"What 21 years in the playoffs means is it's a sign of greatness over a period of time," coach Mike Babcock said. "If you are Henrik Zetterberg and you are in your first year as a captain, you don't want it [to end] on your watch. If you are Mike Babcock in your eighth year of coaching, you don't want it on your watch. If you are any one of these players that has any stake in the Red Wings, especially the ones that have put in a ton of time, they don't want it on their watch either.

"The bottom line, though, is all that to me is just fluff and in the way. We got a game [Saturday], let's play it."

In the meantime, the Red Wings will do some serious scoreboard watching.


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Friday night, that meant keeping a close eye on the Dallas Stars, who remained tied with the Red Wings in points (47) by losing 2-1 to the St. Louis Blues on Friday. Thursday, most of the Red Wings watched the Canucks' 5-1 loss to the Stars, as well as the Los Angeles Kings' 2-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets -- a team Detroit and Dallas trail by two points, though Columbus has three games left.

"It was tough for me to go to bed and not see the score," Zetterberg said of staying up late to watch both games end. "We're watch games tonight and we'll watch scores tomorrow, that's how it's going to be all the way in."

Zetterberg said he watches the late-season playoff battles every year, but admitted it's different this time.

"You are always looking at the playoff hunt -- the 8, 9, 10 spots -- going down the stretch," he said. "This is the first time I have been a part of it so it's a little bit different but I always watch the last 10-15 games because it's crunch time."

Being on the wrong side of that race comes with added pressure, but Zetterberg said it has nothing to do with the Red Wings' two-decades-plus streak.

"The pressure is to get in the playoffs," he said. "I don't want to say we don't care about the streak, but we want to be in the postseason, and it wouldn't matter if we have been in the last four years or the last 21 years. We want to get in."

The good news is it is still up to them. In addition to having two more games remaining than the Blue Jackets, the Red Wings finish the season against the Stars, whom they trail in the first tiebreaker (regulation and overtime wins) by two.

"The bottom line is we gotta win," Babcock said.

The Red Wings have done so three times in the past 10 games (3-5-2) and are coming off a 3-2 loss to the Calgary Flames on Wednesday. Detroit has clobbered Vancouver twice already, outscoring the Canucks 13-5, but the stakes will be higher when they play Saturday.

It's not a situation the Red Wings are accustomed to so late in a season. Babcock and No. 1 goalie Jimmy Howard pointed to 2010 as being a struggle to make the playoffs, but that fight ended quickly with a 16-3-2 streak after the Olympic break and Detroit finished with 102 points and the fifth seed in the Western Conference.

This year's version, which Babcock pointed out has hovered above or below .500 in each month of the shortened season, doesn't have Nicklas Lidstrom. The seven-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman was such a crucial part of the Red Wings' past 20 playoff appearances before retiring last summer.

Adjusting to life without Lidstrom, whose retirement was compounded by the loss of Brad Stuart to free agency and injuries to other veterans, has meant fighting for a playoff position rather than positioning within the playoffs.

Veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall, asked if he was surprised to be in this position, paused.

"I haven't really thought about it that way," Kronwall said. "Sure, we're not used to the situation, but we've been spoiled in the past having guys like Lidstrom in the lineup. I think everyone in here knew how good he was and how much we were going to miss him, but I think maybe people outside the team just realize even more now how good he was. What he did on a daily basis is -- I shouldn't say it was impossible because he was able to do it -- but pretty close."

If there's a positive to the Red Wings' plight, at least this younger, less-experienced version will have a taste of playoff hockey before the postseason actually starts.

"We are basically playing playoff hockey now and it's good experience for guys to be a part of that and kind of prepare for the postseason," Zetterberg said.

Assuming they get there. For the first time in a long time, that's not a lock.

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