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Six reasons the Wings have clinched

by Dan Rosen
The beat goes on for the Detroit Red Wings, who for the 21st straight season have clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Detroit became the sixth team to punch its ticket into the postseason with a 7-2 thrashing of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday at Joe Louis Arena. How did the Wings do it? We can think of at least six reasons, and they're listed below:

Nicklas Lidstrom
Defense - DET
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 22 | PTS: 33
SOG: 134 | +/-: 27
1. Lidstrom stays young: Nicklas Lidstrom is one month shy of his 42nd birthday. You would never know it by looking at him or watching him play. The Red Wings star captain deserves to be in the Norris Trophy discussion yet again (he's already won the award seven times) for what he has been able to do this season. Lidstrom has 33 points on 11 goals and 22 assists. He's once again been effective well beyond his numbers. All you have to do is look at Detroit's recent play. The Red Wings went 3-6-2 in the 11 games (Feb. 28-March 21) Lidstrom missed with a bone bruise in his ankle, but they're 2-0 since he's returned. Detroit is 43-18-3 with Lidstrom in the lineup and just 3-7-2 without him (he also missed the game against Montreal on Jan. 25, a 7-2 loss). The power play is just 2-for-45 (0.044 percent) in the 12 games Lidstrom has missed this season.

2. Carried by Howard: Jimmy Howard became an All-Star this season by helping carry the Red Wings through the first 50-plus games. He had 30 wins and had allowed two or fewer goals in 30 of his 42 starts by the All-Star break. Detroit was 27-2-1 in those games. Howard has been stung by injuries since his experience in Ottawa at All-Star Weekend, but he was arguably Detroit's MVP through the first half of the season. With Howard springing very few leaks, the Red Wings have improved their overall defense from last season, when they gave up 2.89 goals per game, 23rd in the League. They are tied for fifth this season, allowing 2.43 goals per game.

3. Home sweet home: Joe Louis Arena gives the Red Wings a distinct home-ice advantage with its lively boards and old-school feel. They've used it well. Detroit is 30-5-2 at home this season, and that includes its NHL-record 23-game home winning streak from Nov. 5 through Feb. 19. The streak ended Feb. 23 when the Canucks edged Detroit in a shootout. The Red Wings are just 4-3-1 at home since the streak ended, but their home cooking all season put them in position to clinch a playoff berth Monday night.

Ian White
Defense - DET
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 25 | PTS: 32
SOG: 188 | +/-: 26
4. White fills Rafi's role: Brian Rafalski's sudden retirement this past summer left a hole on the Red Wings' blue line. Detroit GM Ken Holland had to find a guy that could move the puck and skate with speed the way Rafalski did. Ian White was hired to do the job, and neither Holland nor coach Mike Babcock could ask for much more than what he has given them. White plays more than 23 minutes per game. He has 32 points. By comparison, Rafalski played just over 20 minutes per game last season and had 48 points. White should not be confused with Rafalski, who could be headed for the Hockey Hall of Fame one day, but he has admirably filled the biggest hole Detroit was staring at this past summer.

5. Balanced attack: Until Monday night, 17 teams had at least one player with 65 points this season; the Red Wings were NOT one of them. However, until Monday night, only three teams scored at least three goals per game; you can now count the Red Wings as the fourth. Henrik Zetterberg had four assists against Columbus to take the team lead with 66 points and the Red Wings scored seven goals to improve their goals-per-game average to 3.03. It's been all about balance in Detroit. The Wings are one of only five teams to have three players with 60 or more points (Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Valtteri Filppula). They are one of only two teams (Nashville is the other) to have 10 players with 30 or more points. That type of balance has allowed Detroit to withstand injuries to Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Franzen, Danny Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi and Tomas Holmstrom.

6. The kids are alright: The core is still made up of the recognizable names such as Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Kronwall, Cleary, Bertuzzi, Ericsson, Stuart, Helm and Abdelkader. However, the Red Wings have needed contributions from a host of others to maintain their position among the NHL's elite. Jakub Kindl has become a mainstay on the blue line despite battling some injuries. Rookie forwards Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton have shown poise and promise in limited ice time. Gustav Nyqvist and Brendan Smith recently came up from Grand Rapids of the AHL to give the Wings some solid minutes and the bonus of added production.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

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