DETROIT – The Red Wings have their first shot at locking down a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs tonight when they host Carolina in the last home game of the regular season at Joe Louis Arena.
With a win over Carolina, and a little help from the Pittsburgh Penguins – who must beat Ottawa in regulation in order to do any good for Detroit – the Wings would be guaranteed a spot at the NHL’s postseason table for a remarkable 24th straight time.
“It lies in our hands,” defenseman Brendan Smith said. “At the end of the day we can only give ourselves a pat on the back or feel ashamed for what we’ve done. It lies in our hands and that’s a good thing. Obviously these games are huge. More or less we just got to win out here. I think more than anything we got to win out to get ourselves ready for playoff hockey.”
The Wings finish the regular season this week with road games at Montreal on Thursday and at Carolina on Saturday. The Stanley Cup playoffs begin a week from Wednesday.
Detroit, Boston and Pittsburgh all have 95 points, and Ottawa has 93. The Bruins are in third place in the Atlantic Division holding the tiebreaker over the Red Wings, who begin the day with the second wild card. The Penguins, who hold the first wild card, can clinch tonight with a win in regulation.
Should the Penguins not cooperate tonight, the Wings are comfortable knowing that they only have to worry about their own business.
“We just have to focus on what we do here,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We have three games left beginning tonight. Every point is important. … We need to come out better than we did last game. The one before that I thought we came out really strong and crisp and we need that tonight.”
Since returning home from a lengthy road trip to the west coast in February the Wings have struggled to get wins, in regulation or otherwise. Since then Detroit is 5-10-2 and haven’t produced consecutive victories in almost five weeks.
“Back in February, you knew even if you were down by a goal or two you were coming back to win,” Smith said. “We got to get that mentality. We’re close. We’re playing well and somehow we’re not finding a way to win.
“It’s every shift. You keep playing the system and your style. The biggest thing is 60 minutes. If you keep coming every shift, something is going to happen. It’s going to go your way. I felt we did a pretty good job of that in February, playing close to 60 minutes, I think our weak part was our start. That’s something we have to make sure we get back to, playing a full 60.”
The Wings need to get back to the basics, start on time – something that has been the team’s Achilles’ heel all season – get pucks deep, play mistake-free in their own end, and wins will come again.
“Obviously everybody knows the situation. Everybody knows the points. Everybody knows how many points everybody else has,” coach Mike Babcock said. “The bottom line is it’s a process business. You do good things and good things will happen. I really believe we’ve played a lot of good hockey here of late. We haven’t scored, and we let it in too easy. We just got to keep building on our game, and I think that’s what we’re doing. We’re excited for this opportunity. If I would have told the guys at the start of the year that we had an opportunity to be in the playoffs they would have been jacked. So we’re still in that same opportunity. We got a game here tonight against Carolina. Carolina plays fast and we’ve got to be prepared to go.”
Jimmy Howard will get his fourth start in two weeks. Since returning from a groin injury in February, the veteran goalie has been through some ups and downs. Though he was solid in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win at Minnesota earning just his third win since March 9.
“I felt good out there, I was following the puck really well and that’s all I’m gonna concentrate (on) tonight,” Howard said. “Just going out there and focusing on that one puck and everything else will fall into place.”
DATSYUK’S STATUS: Pavel Datsyuk
Center - DET
Goals: 24 | Assists: 37 | Pts: 61
Shots: 159 | +/-: 10
has played in four of the past six games with a lower-body injury. And while it appears that it hasn’t affected his productivity on the ice – he has two goals and 10 points in past 11 games – Babcock was overly convincing when asked if Datsyuk was definitely in the lineup tonight.
“That’s sure what I think,” the Wings’ coach said. “My mind won’t let me think anything else.”
Should Datsyuk be ready to play against the Hurricanes, Babcock indicted that he plans to reunite the Russian superstar with Zetterberg and forward Darren Helm.
On Monday, the Wings recalled Landon Ferraro from AHL Grand Rapids. Babcock wasn’t sure if the rookie forward will make his season debut with the Wings tonight.
“I’m going to make a game-time decision,” Babcock said.
If Ferraro doesn’t play then Daniel Cleary will skate on the third line with center Luke Glendening and forward Drew Miller.
The Wings will also be without forward Justin Abdelkader, who hasn't played since he was hurt blocking a shot in overtime of Saturday's win at Minnesota. He is considered to be day to day and hopefully will be available to play Thursday against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
SMITH MOURNS BADGERS’ LOSS:
Defense - DET
Goals: 4 | Assists: 9 | Pts: 13
Shots: 87 | +/-: -4
Smith was still disappointed that the University of Wisconsin took it on the chin to Duke in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament championship Monday night in Indianapolis.
The Blue Devils overcame a nine-point, second half deficit, en route to a 68-63 win over Wisconsin.
“I thought they would pull it out after they took out Kentucky (in the semifinal) but Duke’s a good squad,” said Smith, who played at Wisconsin from 2007-10. “Obviously both teams are well-coached. I thought there were maybe a few suspect calls. But that’s just how the game goes. I thought Duke’s freshmen really stepped up and played big games. I think that was the difference.”
Meanwhile, Miller, a former student-athlete at Michigan State, finished first in the Red Wings’ basketball bracket challenge.
“Drew Miller wins it because he took Duke,” said Smith, who picked Wisconsin to bet Gonzaga in the championship game. “Danny DeKeyser came in second because he took Duke. He actually had a pretty bad bracket, but it’s how it’s weighted. You get the winning team you get a lot more points. It’s not that he had a bad sheet but he had some teams that were out before the Elite Eight.”