Their disappointing 6-3 loss against Vancouver last Wednesday really resonated with the Wings, making them realize that if they continued to play like they did against the Canucks, then clinching a playoff spot for a 19th consecutive season is in jeopardy.
For years, the Wings have been the team to beat in the Western Conference. They haven’t been forced to play every game with urgency and desperation in a long time.
“I think we’ve had a lot of wake-up calls during the year,” forward Henrik Zetterberg
said. “We haven’t had that high standard that we usually have. We’re winning a game then losing a game, we’re winning two then losing three. It’s not good enough. We’re in the playoffs but we’re right there, if we don’t win games here in the end we won’t be in the tournament, and we know what we have to do and it’s up to us.”
Since Dec. 26, the Wings haven’t gone on more than a two-game win streak. Those two-game win streaks were interspersed with three- and four-game losing streaks, which can’t happen if the Wings want to make it to the post-season.
The positive thing is that the loss to Vancouver was a turning point of sorts.
“Obviously, when we’re walking out of (Joe Louis Arena) we were very disappointed in the effort that we had,” veteran forward Kris Draper said. “That’s something, that as a player, you take a lot of pride in the way you play, especially the way you compete in this rink. And we weren’t nearly good enough, the score showed it, and we deserved that. The good thing is how we responded.
“We got to be ready, like we were against Nashville, where there was desperation in our game. And we played a solid hockey game and responded in Chicago, that’s what we have to continue to do.”
Wings coach Mike Babcock has continually said in order to win, his best players had to be better than the opposing team’s best players. The Wings were that good in Sunday’s 5-4 win over the Blackhawks, holding both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to minus-3.
That was the first time this season that Chicago’s two young superstars have both been held to minus-3 together since Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, also against Detroit.
“Always when you play a team that has good players, you want to minimize their production,” Zetterberg said. “Last night we did that, and it helped us win the game.”
“We know when we play against teams that they’re trying to keep (Pavel Datsyuk
) and Hank off the board, and make other guys beat you,” Draper said. “That’s what we tried to do yesterday (with Toews and Kane) and we were successful with that.”
Although Kane and Toews were held scoreless, other Chicago players stepped up and responded, most notably third-line forward Andrew Ladd, who had three goals.
But a balanced effort from five different Wings scorers, along with a Herculean effort by Datsyuk, helped them emerge with the win.
On Sunday, Datsyuk proved why he has been two-time winner of the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward, picking Kane’s pocket for a breakaway goal with three seconds left in the second period to score the Wings’ fifth goal.
He also backchecked hard to steal the puck from Toews in the last minute of play, robbing him of a chance to send the game into overtime.
“It’s no coincidence that Pav’s won Selke Trophies, to me he’s the best two-way player in the game,” Draper said. “When he did that yesterday, obviously against a great hockey player like Toews, it’s just him, Pavel being Pavel, getting it done.”
The Wings are 12-0-2 this season when scoring four or more goals in a game.
BATTLE FOR NO. 8:
The Wings, who currently hold the final Western Conference playoff seed with 74 points, will host ninth-place Calgary on Tuesday. The Flames are one point behind Detroit.
The Flames were active before the trade deadline, making a number of changes to their lineup to help them secure a playoff spot.
The Wings have kept an eye on the Flames’ trades, but aren’t apprehensive about facing a team with a new look. What they will be on the watch for is Calgary’s depth up front, especially their newly acquired forwards Matt Stajan, Rene Bourque and Ian White
“Obviously they got a good team, and they’re in the exact same boat we are, they’re battling for their playoff life,” Babcock said.
“They’ve changed their team around, obviously quite a bit, yet in saying that they’ve got real good depth up front. They don’t fall off much up front … obviously, (Stajan, Bourque and White) are going to be a factor. We’ve got to keep building on what we got going.”INJURY REPORT:
Two key players were missing from Monday’s practice, Datsyuk and Todd Bertuzzi
Datsyuk got the day off to recover from an illness that has plagued him since Sunday.
“He was sick yesterday, but he played,” Babcock said. “Then we decided it wasn’t a good idea to bring him in here (Monday), so he’ll go (Tuesday).”
Bertuzzi suffered a lower-body injury late in the second period of Sunday’s game, and did not return. He suffered a charley horse in his thigh after being hit by both Jordan Hendry and Ben Eager.
Bertuzzi, who had two assists in Sunday’s win, took Monday off to rest, but will be in the lineup on Tuesday.
The only change Babcock will make for Tuesday is replacing Brett Lebda with Jonathan Ericsson
on defense. The two will be interchanged as Babcock sees fit, since both of them are playing well with the vocal Andreas Lilja.
“(Lilja’s) ability to talk to young guys has made a huge difference,” Babcock said. “Lebs played better, and so was E. E will go back in and we’ll just keep rotating those guys.”