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Despite OT loss, Wings qualify for playoffs

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Tomas Tatar scored his 29th goal of the season, giving the Red Wings a 1-0 lead in the first period. He's one of six Red Wings who werent born the last time Detroit didn't make it to the playoffs. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

MONTREAL – They needed some help, but the Red Wings will enter the field of 16 teams that will compete for this year’s Stanley Cup when the playoffs start next week.

By gaining one point in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre – coupled with Boston’s 4-2 loss at Florida – the Wings squeaked into the playoffs Thursday night.

“Probably the first game I was scoreboard watching,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “It (Boston game) was 3-1 and then 3-2 and then 4-2. Didn’t know how long was left but when we got in (the dressing room) we put the TV on there was 30 seconds left. So it was good.”

The Wings have qualified for the postseason for a remarkable 24th straight season, tying the Montreal franchise (1971-94) for the fourth longest streak in NHL history.

“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. “The last three years we’ve been grinding to get in. We changed our group totally and to find away has been incredible.”

Despite the loss, the Wings had a solid effort, out-shooting the Canadiens, 27-26, and winning many of the 50-50 battles.

“I thought our team played real well tonight,” Babcock continued. “We should have won that game. The puck went in, it shouldn’t have went in. We’re going to have to deal with that in the next few days to get that straightened out. But I thought our team played real hard.”

As has been the case many times this season and certainly throughout their illustrious careers, Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk shined brightest when the chips were down. The veteran pair each had two-point nights. Datsyuk had a goal and an assist, while Zetterberg assisted on both of his linemate’s goals.

“There’s no secret, we like to play with each other,” Zetterberg said. “We have good chemistry. We had that 10 years ago and it’s fun to see that we still have it.”

Datsyuk has missed seven of the past 13 games with a lower-body injury that has bothered him for more than a month. He hasn’t practiced regularly nor participated in morning skates lately. But come game time, the Wings’ top-line center continues to raise havoc for opposing defenses, like he did against the Canadiens.

Datsyuk made a beautiful play to set up the Wings’ first goal. He wheeled through the neutral zone before passing off to Zetterberg on a give-and-go. Zetterberg then led Datsyuk across the blue line along the right wall where Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher seemed primed to play the puck out of harm’s way. But the sneaky Datsyuk lifted the Canadiens player’s stick, playing the puck with his right skate, kicking it behind the back to his forehand. From there he spotted Tomas Tatar, sliding a sharp pass to the Wings’ leading goal scorer, who tapped a shot into the empty net on the far side.

Then, trailing 2-1 in the second period, Datsyuk worked more of his magic, freezing a couple Canadiens defenders before wristing a shot that beat goalie Carey Price on the short side at 8:07.

“He’s been huge for us. It’s fun to see,” Zetterberg said. “When it matters the most he comes in and plays really well.”

For Datsyuk it was his team-leading 18th multi-point game of the season, which represents more than a quarter of the games (28.6 percent) he’s played. Zetterberg has 17 multi-point games.

Detroit regained a lead when Darren Helm scored his team-leading second shorthanded goal. Showing great anticipation, Helm jumped the passing route picking off a rink-wide pass from Andrei Markov to his defensive partner P.K. Subban. From there the speedy Helm was off on an unimpeded course toward the Canadiens net.

Unfortunately, the Wings gave up the tying goal with Danny DeKeyser and Riley Sheahan serving minor penalties. Sheahan went to the box for Brendan Smith who picked up an interference penalty with 8:53 left in regulation for playing the puck with his hand while he was sitting on the bench.

“Crazy,” Babcock said. “I knew exactly what happened, I watched the whole thing. We should have went to the box, should have been a 5 on 3. Done.”

Lars Eller scored the game winner for the Canadiens at 1:21 of overtime.

While the Wings clinched a playoff spot Thursday, their seeding is undetermined, and they still don’t know who they’ll face in the first round. Detroit can still finish in third place in the Atlantic Division or end up with the first or second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Babcock is elated with the Wings’ playoff berth, but admitted he had reservations about this team's chances heading into training camp.

“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,” he said. “Obviously we’ve got a ton out of our lineup right now and the size really affects us but maybe we can get some guys back here. I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but we’re a way deeper team than we’re playing right now. I’m just proud of the guys.”

The Wings will likely rest several of their regulars for Saturday’s season finale at Carolina before preparing for their first-round opponent next week. The rest will surely help Datsyuk, Tomas Jurco (concussion) and forward Justin Abdelkader, who has missed three games since sustaining a hand injury last Saturday at Minnesota.

“Our biggest thing is I’m hoping we’re gonna get some guys back,” Babcock said. “I’m hoping a couple days off for Pav and he can feel himself. Get Abby back. I think that would really help, obviously. We’re not getting the (Johan Franzen) back. We’re not getting (Erik) Cole back. But even Jurcs, if we can get Jurcs back I think we’re a better team.”

The last time the Red Wings failed to make the playoffs, a gallon of gas in the United States cost $1.30, ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ won the Oscar for Best Picture, and six current Wings – Tatar, Sheahan, Jurco, Petr Mrazek, Teemu Pulkkinen and Landon Ferraro – weren't born yet.

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