I’ve gone back and forth as to whether or not the streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances is going to end when it comes to the Detroit Red Wings.
Given the amount of injuries Detroit has had to endure — that number is currently up to 10, with nine of those being regulars at the beginning of the season — and the number of Grand Rapids Griffins who are currently on the Red Wings — that number is up to 11, while the Griffins only have 10 players from last year’s team on their current roster — it’s easy to see why this could be the first time since the 1989-90 season the Red Wings miss the playoffs.
But a hard-fought 5-4 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday showed you can never count this team out.
The Red Wings had a 2-0 lead early in the second period and looked in control of the star-studded Penguins. But three goals in a span of 2:41 gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead late in the second period.
Detroit took a 4-3 lead midway through the third period and looked destined to escape with a win and a crucial two points. But the Penguins tied it up again, and now the Red Wings’ game plan was to hang on to secure at least a point.
To make matters worse, the Red Wings were forced to kill off a five-minute major as David Legwand butt-ended Malkin in the groin area. The last minute of the five-minute penalty was in overtime, which forced the Red Wings to play 4 on 3. Led by Luke Glendening, one of those kids, Detroit fended off the league’s top-ranked power play.
With 6.8 seconds remaining in overtime, Gustav Nyquist chipped a loose puck up to Daniel Alfredsson. Alfredsson wristed a shot on goal, Marc-Andre Fleury made the save, but the puck deflected off Rob Scuderi and past Fluery with 0.4 seconds remaining to give the Red Wings two of their biggest points this season.
Alfredsson is one of the few veterans left on this team, but he doesn’t score if not for the play of Nyquist late in the game.
This mentality of “it isn’t over until it’s over” shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows this team on a regular basis. Remember when the Red Wings had to win their final four games of the regular season last year just to squeak into the playoffs?
They scored 15 goals in four games, and Jimmy Howard notched two shutouts to secure the No. 7 seed.
Remember when that same Red Wings team faced a 3-2 deficit to the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference quarterfinals last year only to win two straight games, including Game 7 in Anaheim, to upset the No. 2-seeded Ducks?
Henrik Zetterberg scored the game winner in overtime of Game 6, and the Red Wings held on for a 3-2 win in Anaheim to clinch a spot in the semifinals.
The obvious difference between this year’s team and last year’s team is last year’s team featured Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Last year’s team had a few rookies sprinkled in the lineup with Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Damien Brunner and Danny DeKeyser, but it was still a very veteran-laden team.
This year’s team features two full lines of prospects. Seven prospects have made their NHL debut with the Red Wings this season. Holland hasn’t had time to overripen his players, he’s been forced to suit up guys before they are ready for the NHL level.
Yet, they still find ways to win, even when their two best players sit in the press box watching the fate of their team determined by a group of kids.
So does this big win against the Penguins mean the Red Wings are destined for a 23rd consecutive playoff berth?
Not at all. There’s still a lot of work left to be done to clinch a playoff spot.
What it does guarantee is the Red Wings won’t stop trying despite the huge odds stacked against them.