DETROIT – Despite Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the Red Wings still have a slight hold on the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The loss was disappointing because Detroit had a chance to gain valuable ground in a head-to-head match up against the Canadiens, as well as Tampa Bay, who currently are second and third, respectively, in the Atlantic Division. Instead, both Montreal and Tampa Bay picked up two points in the standings to create more distance between them and the Red Wings.
The Lightning needed 13 rounds of a shootout, before prevailing, 5-4, at home against the New York Islanders Thursday night.
For the second straight game, the Red Wings started slowly, spotting their opponent a two-goal lead in the first period, which had coach Mike Babcock second guessing his decision to give the players an option to practice the day before. Detroit surrendered a 2-0 lead at Columbus Tuesday before the Blue Jackets held on for a 3-2 win.
“That’s two games in a row that we got behind and it’s unacceptable,” Babcock said. “We’ve played so much hockey that I gave them an optional yesterday and not many guys went onto the ice. Looked like we couldn’t skate at the start of the game. You can bet it won’t be an optional tomorrow.”
With nine games remaining, the Red Wings (33-26-14) are still one of four teams in the East with 80 points, along with Columbus, Washington and Toronto, who were all idle on Thursday.
Toronto plays at Philadelphia and Columbus hosts Pittsburgh on Friday. Washington hosts Eastern Conference-leading Boston on Saturday afternoon.
Unable to break the four-way tie for seventh place was definitely a disappointment felt by the Red Wings’ players after the game.
“It's not like we don't know what's going on,” said Tomas Tatar, who scored two second-period goals in the loss. “We just didn't start the game well. We couldn't get them. We can't just hope we will win after one good period so we have to be better. We know we gotta start from the get-go and from the beginning. We just have to play better.”
The Red Wings’ next game is Saturday at the Air Canada Centre against the Maple Leafs, currently mired in a six-game losing streak that includes a 3-2 loss to the Wings at The Joe last week.
“So it was a huge game for us today and we didn’t get it looked after,” Babcock said. “We’ve got to get ready here tomorrow, we’re going to Toronto, and we gotta get it looked after there. But this having a day off, being fresh and not being able to skate is unacceptable.”
NEW PLAYOFF FORMAT: The top three teams in each division makes up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots, or wild-card teams, will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season points and regardless of division.
Seeding of the wild-card teams within each divisional playoff will be determined on the basis of regular-season points. The division winner with the most points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the fewest points; the division winner with the second-most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the second-fewest points.
The teams finishing second and third in each division will play in the first round of the playoffs. There is no reseeding as the tournament moves to the second round and winners of that series advance to the conference championship series and the right to play in the Stanley Cup finals.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose