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Wings need push to make playoffs

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings


DETROIT 68 21 -- 0 2 0 3
67 20 0 -- 1 2 1
CALGARY 69 20 2 1 -- 0 0
68 21 0 2 0 -- 1
71 21 3 1 0 1 --
(Above is a breakdown of what five Western Conference teams will see in the remainder of their schedules, including matchups between the teams close in the standings.)

– When the Red Wings return from the Olympic break they’ll likely have a healthy squad for the first time this season.  A full roster will come at a perfect time for the Wings as they prepare for a challenge they haven’t seen in years – a fight for a playoff spot.

With 21 games left, the Wings are one point out of the eighth and final playoff position in the Western Conference. The race will be tight with four points separating the No. 7 seed (Nashville) through the No. 11 (Anaheim).

After many years of Central Division dominance, and routinely finishing in the top-four in the West, the Wings have had to fight for wins as injuries have mounted this season. At one point, the Wings were playing without nine players, all of whom usually log significant ice-time.

“It’s been tough,” Wings forward Kris Draper said. “There’s been a lot of injuries. … They all seem to be major. But we’re getting guys back; we’re going to get guys healthy.  We have to go and be the team that we feel that we can be night in, and night out.”

The Wings showed what they are capable of in their last two games prior to the Olympic break. Detroit made a late comeback to take San Jose – the top team in the Western Conference – to a shootout, and posted an impressive 4-1 win over Ottawa. It was only the Senators second loss in 15 games.

When asked if the Wings were building momentum for the final stretch, Johan Franzen, who returned this month from a torn ACL, said the two-week break wouldn’t help, but he liked what he’s seen lately.

“I don’t think we’re going to keep momentum that long,” Franzen said. “But I think we’ve been playing better and better, so hopefully we can continue doing that.”

One problem the Wings have faced this season is scoring goals. Detroit is 22nd in goals per game (2.54), and 12th total goals in the conference (159).

“I think we’ve got to win those tight games,” Franzen said. “Get that confidence, and then (the scoring’s) going to get back on track. It’s hard when you haven’t won in a while, and it’s hard to get the puck in the net. If we start winning, confidence will take care of that I think.”

Defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who also returned from a lengthy knee injury, said that knowing the team could be healthy after the break is great motivation. The Olympics has given Kronwall and Franzen a chance to get back into game form. It’s provided time for non-Olympians, like Tomas Holmstrom and Patrick Eaves, to heal, and given rookie goalie Jimmy Howard a bit of a break.

“It helps a lot, just knowing everyone is good to go will be huge,” Kronwall said. “We all know that the last six weeks of the season is going to be very important for us to get into the playoffs. So of course we’re thrilled to get back here after the Olympics and get going again.”

It will be a tough battle within the Western Conference for playoff spots when the NHL resumes on Monday. Even though the Wings are currently one point behind Calgary for the last spot, Detroit only trails Colorado by eight points for the No. 6 seed. However, the Wings will be focused on the four log-jammed teams between Nos. 7-11: Nashville, Calgary, Dallas and Anaheim.

The Wings have three games remaining with Nashville, and two against Calgary. A winning record in those five games could go a long way to securing a playoff berth.

Detroit must also receive help, because they don’t have any games left against Dallas and Anaheim.

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