DETROIT – With their playoff lives still very much in question, the Red Wings are headed to western Canada where they will face a pair of teams this week, which are headed in opposite directions.
Right Wing - DET
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 25
SOG: 94 | +/-: 9
First up are the struggling Calgary Flames, who can be mercifully eliminated from postseason contention with a loss in regulation to the Red Wings on Wednesday night. Three nights later, the Wings will face the surging Vancouver Canucks, who have gone 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. But the Wings have handed the Canucks to of their worst losses of the season.
Regardless, with six games left on the schedule, the Wings need wins to maintain their current hold on the No. 8 seed if they are to extend their 21-season playoff streak.
“We still got to play,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “What’s tougher to play, a team that knows they’re in (or) a bunch of kids that are up trying to impress, fighting for jobs? I don’t know the answer to any of those things. I just know we have a tough game against Calgary. We had a good preparation day today, we’ll fly there, get up tomorrow, have something to eat and go at her.”
The Wings have earned points in three straight games, including Sunday’s 3-0 victory at Nashville, where Johan Franzen scored a goal in the second consecutive game. The Mule now has seven points in the last seven games, 16 points in the last 23 games since returning from a hip injury in February.
“He’s a great player, big, strong and quick on his feet. Plus, he’s got a good set of hands,” said Valtteri Filppula, who along with Daniel Cleary has played a wing position on Franzen’s line recently. “He’s been important for us, scoring some key goals down the stretch and everybody knows how he plays in the playoffs, so it’s a good start that he’s playing well right now.”
The postseason has definitely been the Mule’s time of year. He is among the top 20 players in the league with 73 points in 88 career playoff games, and last week, Babcock referred to him as the team’s X-factor heading down the home stretch.
Besides Franzen’s recent point outburst, Filppula likes that he’s playing hard in the corners and making it quite difficult for the opposition to get the puck away from the team’s biggest forward. But Filppula also credits all four forward lines for stepping it up lately.
“I think we’re been playing well with the four lines going good and being able to spend more time in the opponent’s end, and I feel that when you go to a seven-game series, even if you don’t score, you’re wearing down the other team and that becomes very important,” Filppula said. “I think that’s definitely one thing that we’ve tried to focus on, have four lines going and making it harder for the opponent.”
FINALLY SIGNED: As the owner of a shiny new six-year contract extension, worth a reported $31.8 million, goalie Jimmy Howard knows what his Wings’ teammates expect.
Goalie - DET
GAA: 2.31 | SVP: 0.920
“It’s one of those things where I’ll treat everyone to dinner,” Howard joked before the team headed to Calgary on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s an exciting time for myself and my family and we’re excited to be here for six more years.”
Howard reported last week that both sides were close to finalizing the deal. The 29-year-old goalie could have become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. But now that he knows where he’ll be for the foreseeable future, Howard couldn’t feel better about the situation.
“It still sort of surreal. I still can’t believe it’s happening,” he said. “It’s been a long road, a long journey with a lot of ups and down, especially with being in the American League for four years and learning to become a professional. Everything sort of panned out for me.
“Everyone would want to finish their career with the team that they started with. To be able to be drafted by the Wings when I was 18 and still be here and part of the organization at 29 … it’s pretty special.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose