Wings in dogfight for final playoff spot

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

Trivia time: Name the last season in which Nicklas Lidstrom missed the NHL playoffs?

The answer is never.

Not once in the career of the Detroit Red Wings captain has his team been on the outside of the Stanley Cup tournament looking in. That’s a mighty impressive feat considering we’re talking about a player in his 18th season, and still going strong.

However, Lidstrom’s streak is in danger this season and he knows it.

“I want to keep being part of the playoffs. The whole team wants to. We know it’s going to be a battle down the stretch,” Lidstrom said heading into Monday night’s clash with the Calgary Flames.

A generation of hockey fans don’t remember the Dead Wings era, when Detroit’s squad was always closer to the bottom of the standings. Last time the Wings missed the second season was 1990-91. Children born that spring are in their first year of university.

Yet, with less than four weeks remaining, the Wings are in a dogfight with the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators for the seventh and eighth spots in the Western Conference standings and facing the possibility of being spectators.

“It’s been somewhat of a different season for us, but I think the guys have handled it well in here. We’ve been battling all season long, and down the stretch here points are getting more and more important,” Lidstrom said.

As the situation gets tighter, though, the Wings have two advantages: A major amount of experience in crunch time — Lidstrom’s career includes 235 playoff games, nearly the equivalent of four full regular seasons — and the fact they finally have a healthy roster.

“There’s no panic and we are a confident team,” said Listrom, whose resume includes four championships. “We realize where we’re at in the standings and know we have to play with desperation. Experience helps, but you have to bring that desperation every time you’re out there.”

Then again, there is a flip side to all that experience.

“I don’t think we’re going to panic, but I’ll be honest, there’s a lot of us who have never been in this situation before,” said Kris Draper. “This is something new. Now, you realize down the stretch how important these games are going to be.

“The talk used to be, ‘Who are you gonna rest? When are you gonna rest?’ so we were ready for the first round. Now, that’s not the case. We need everybody and everybody playing at a high level.”

The Wings may have won the Stanley Cup two years ago and reached the final last spring, but a step back was expected with the loss of key players such as Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson and Jiri Hudler.

But mix in the injuries — only Listrom, Brad Stuart and Todd Bertuzzi have played every game while the likes of Dan Cleary, Henrik Zetterberg, Valtterri Filppula, Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom have all missed significant time — and you can understand their struggles.

“We were saying if we could stay in the hunt up until the Olympic break, get healthy and make a really good push, we could do some good things. Now it’s up to us,” Draper said. “This is the healthiest we’ve been all year, all our players are back and now we’re in the mix.”

Thus the noticeable calm in the dressing room.

“That’s great to have a calm presence, ‘We’re gonna make it.’ I’ve been hearing that for a long time,” head coach Mike Babcock said. “You actually have to do it. You have to have a sense of urgency. I think it’s real important to remain calm and it’s real important you allow yourself to execute, but the bottom line there has to be a sense of urgency in your play.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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