DETROIT – It might be helpful if the Red Wings view the final seven games of the regular-season as a must-have qualifying round in order to advance to their 22nd consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Chalk up Sunday’s 3-0 win at Nashville as a Game 1 victory that they needed to have in an incredibly tight playoff race in the Western Conference that has the Red Wings looking over their shoulder at Columbus, Dallas and Phoenix.
“Every single night, you want to see what those guys are doing,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “We're still in the driver's seat here and just got to get two points and win games.
“There's no panic, but guys definitely know there's a sense of urgency around here. … It's on us to go out there and get the job done. Nobody else is going go do it for us.”
Now that there are six games left – including two this week in Calgary on Wednesday and in Vancouver on Saturday – every point is important as the Wings fight for their playoff lives.
But scoring continues to be a concern for the Wings, who over the last 10 games have averaged 1.9 goals per game. They’ve scored three or more goals just eight times, while being shut-out three times in the last 21 games.
Since blistering the Anaheim Ducks for five goals on March 22, Detroit has managed to top the three-goal plateau four times. Scoring is critical for the Wings, who for more than two decades have scored with regularity. Even this season, they are 16-0-2 when scoring three of more goals. However, contrastingly, the Wings are 4-15-5 when scoring two or fewer goals.
“You should know it's a fairly urgent situation for us, but I think it's been like that all year,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I heard lots of times we've been inconsistent, but that's not true. We've been the most consistent Red Wings’ team I ever coached. But we've been in the grinder since the start. We've been in and out of the playoffs all year. When you woke up (Sunday) morning you're not in them, it doesn't make you feel good.”
But Sunday’s win give the Wings a better feeling, and puts them back in the playoff picture. Detroit is currently in the No. 8 spot, two-points ahead of the Stars and Blue Jackets, and four-points ahead of the Coyotes.
This week, the Wings would benefit from scoring more like they have against the Canucks than they have against the Flames. Detroit has scored 13 goals against Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, but only netted three goals against Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff this season.
“We score like we should, that's what we got,” Babcock said. “We understand that, we're big boys, we're pros, so if you know you're challenged to score, what do you do? You don't try to outscore your mistakes, you don't make as many mistakes. You be good defensively, you be hard on the other team. That's what you have to do.”
With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
WEDNESDAY – at CALGARY (16-21-4): While they’re not mathematically eliminated from the postseason, the Flames have all but been extinguished. The losers of six of their last 10 games, Calgary has played the role of spoiler, beating Phoenix in overtime on Friday and all but dashing the Oilers’ playoff chances with a 4-1 at Edmonton Saturday. … Since an 8-2 shellacking at home to the hands of the Oilers, backup goalie Joey MacDonald has bounced back rather well, earning three straight victories, including back-to-back wins over the weekend against Phoenix and at Edmonton. Since the blowout, the former Red Wings’ backup has been remarkable, allowing just four goals on 90 shots. … The 4-1 win Saturday may have knocked the Oilers from the Western Conference playoff race. … The Flames also got a look into their future on Saturday when a pair of rookies – Sven Baertschi (first-round pick, 2011) and Max Reinhart (third-round pick, 2010) – netted their first goals of the season. Reinhart’s third-period goal was the first of his career.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Over the years, left wing Curtis Glencross has been a Red Wings killer, producing eight goals and nine assists in 21 career games against Detroit. His three game-winning goals are the most that he has scored against any team in the league. The 6-foot-1 Saskatchewan native missed Saturday’s win at Edmonton with flu-like symptoms. But the Flames’ leader in goals (15) has potted a goal with two assists in his last five games while skating mainly on a line with center Mikael Backlund and forward Jiri Hudler. In Calgary’s two wins over Detroit this year, Glencross collected two goals and an assists. He scored the game-winner at Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 5.
SATURDAY – at VANCOUVER (23-12-6): The Canucks have posted 17 wins this season when scoring the first goal of the game and are tied for fifth in the NHL for most wins collected when scoring first. When leading after the first period, Vancouver has recorded 13 wins, which also ranks them fifth in the league. Daniel Sedin has helped the Canucks with an early lead, netting the lead-off goal four times, including Feb. 24 at Detroit. However that game didn’t go so well for the Canucks, who were defeated 8-3 by the Red Wings. The Canucks made history when Alex Burrows scored six-seconds into their March 16 game against Detroit. But the Red Wings recovered as Henrik Zetterberg broke out of his 11-game goal-scoring slump by scoring twice and leading Detroit to a 5-2 win.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Defenseman Jason Garrison, the free agent acquisition from Florida last summer, is beginning to finally pay dividends for his new club. The 6-foot-2 left-handed shot has five points in his last five games, which included his sixth goal of the season in Saturday’s stunning 4-3 loss at Colorado. Garrison owns a Howitzer of a shot from the right point, a position that has taken time for him to feel comfortable this season. But after signing a six-year deal worth $27.6 million, the steady puck-moving defenseman is gaining confidence as Canucks coach Alain Vigneault told the Vancouver Sun recently: “Jason has been really, really, really efficient. For someone who originally had some reserve about playing the right side, he hasn't been awkward at all as far as turning and going back for pucks and finding the outlet pass. He's been really good.” Garrison began the season working with Alex Edler as his defensive partner. But after a slow start, the pair was split up, and Garrison was pulled from the top power play unit. Recently, Garrison has been partnered with veteran Dan Hamhuis. … Garrison has faced the Wings just four times in his four-year career, including twice as a member of the Panthers.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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