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Wings clinch playoff spot with 7-2 win

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- Mike Babcock and his players can officially stop saying they just want to get into the playoffs now.

The Detroit Red Wings are in the NHL's postseason field for the 21st straight season after a 7-2 rout of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night at Joe Louis Arena and now it's time for them to start thinking of bigger goals.

"We've had such good teams and we've clinched the playoffs, but we want to win the Stanley Cup. That's our end goal," said Tomas Holmstrom, who scored for the first time in 28 games and finished with a pair of power-play goals in the first to help spark the rout. "It's put us in good position, but we have to get home ice advantage. It’s pretty good, for sure, getting in 21 straight years."

The playoff clinch also extended what was already the longest active streak of consecutive playoff berths in any of the four major professional sports and set a new team record -- topping the 20 straight the Red Wings strung together from 1938-39 to 1957-58.

The next longest active streak in the NHL is seven straight appearances by the San Jose Sharks, who are currently locked in a battle with Colorado, Los Angeles and Phoenix for one of the last postseason slots in the Western Conference.

"For this group, it just means that we're in this year and that's all that really matters," said Babcock, whose team jumped back ahead of idle Nashville by a point for second in the Central Division and fourth in the West. "We've got to get playing good. But when you look at a franchise that's been there 21 years in a row, it's spectacular. Obviously the Ilitches (Detroit's owners) have done a great job."

All the Red Wings (46-25-5) needed was a win to clinch their playoff spot and made sure to secure it early with four goals in the first, including the two from Holmstrom, one by Jiri Hudler and the first of rookie Gustav Nyquist's NHL career.

"It's good to see and it's probably not the last (one)," quipped star center Henrik Zetterberg, to whom Nyquist is often compared. "It's good (for him) to get that one out of the way. He's been playing great for us."

Zetterberg has, too.

He's given Detroit 12 goals and 19 assists in the past 24 games and dished out four primary assists in this game, including both of Holmstrom's goals. Zetterberg also picked up primary assists on Nicklas Lidstrom's goal in the second and Pavel Datsyuk's goal in the third to make it 7-0 just 1:25 into the final period.

Holmstrom's power-play tallies also gave a jolt to Detroit's struggling power play, which had scored just once in 35 man-advantage situations coming into the game. The Wings went 2-for-6 against the Jackets (24-45-7) and hope it sparks a resurgence in their offensive special teams unit.

Holmstrom, by the way, now has 242 goals with exactly half of them (121) coming on the power play -- where he makes a living camping in front of the net.

"Not really (surprising)," Lidstrom said. "We know where he's going to be. He's going to be right in front of the net and tonight they made some great plays for him, but he finished them too. It was great to see him get those two goals."

Holmstrom lives to scrap in front of the net, but overall this game against wasn't much of a battle at all. The Wings again played without leading goal scorer Johan Franzen (back), starting goalie Jimmy Howard (groin) and big-bodied defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (wrist), but none were missed.

Todd Bertuzzi also dished out four helpers for Detroit, which will face the Blue Jackets again on Wednesday in Columbus.

"They took it to us," said Jackets star forward Rick Nash, who scored one of two Columbus goals in the third. "It showed they are a great team. We weren't ready. (Detroit's playoff streak) is unbelievable. It just shows the reputation of their organization and the kind of job they do from the bottom to the top of the organization.”

The Jackets finally got on the board with Mark Letestu's goal 19 seconds after Datsyuk's in the thrid, but it was nothing more than a side note to end Ty Conklin's shutout bid. Meanwhile, it's already been quite the week for Holmstrom and it's only a couple days into it.

On Sunday, the 39-year old veteran of 15 NHL seasons was officially chosen by media members in Detroit as the Red Wings' candidate for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his perseverance and dedication to the sport of hockey.

On Monday, he scored a goal for the first time since Jan.17 and followed it up in the same period with another one  to reach 10 for the season. Hudler's goal, meanwhile, was his 23rd of the season -- which tied his career high.

Nyquist's was not only the first of the promising rookie's career, but capped another highlight-reel assist by Datsyuk -- who somehow spotted the Swedish rookie on the back side of the net and slipped a blind backhand pass right to him for an easy tip-in.

In order to get Nyquist the puck, however, Datsyuk first had to slide it under the stick of Columbus defenseman John Moore in the slot.

"It feels great,"said the 22-year old Nyquist, who now has six points in his last seven games. "It's nice to get the first one out of the way, especially the way it panned out too. The pass by Datsyuk was unbelievable. It was a fun way to score your first goal."

Columbus goalie Steve Mason (22 saves) didn't have nearly as much fun. He also didn't have a chance to stop that scoring play or most of the plays that led to his six goals allowed. The Blue Jackets defense was almost non-existent at times and Columbus, the League's worst team in the standings, was dominated as a result.

"We could've had Patrick Roy in there (or) Ken Dryden … (it) wouldn't have mattered," Columbus interim coach Todd Richards said. "You can't fault the goaltender on the first four. It was too easy for them."
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