DETROIT – With just 18 games remaining in the regular season, the Red Wings are on the outside looking in at the final wild-card spot, which is currently occupied by their next opponent.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard didn’t have to look far to indicate how important Tuesday’s matchup against Columbus is for Detroit.
“It says it right there,” Howard said, pointing at the standings board inside the Wings’ dressing room. “We both have 71 points. All you have to do is look at the board and you see the significance of the game.”
The Blue Jackets’ 29 regulation plus overtime wins puts the club one place ahead of Detroit in the standings, and no one is downplaying how critical the game is as the playoff race tightens.
“Biggest game, really, if I think about it right now after losing that one to the Rangers,” defenseman Brendan Smith said. “We need to take this one, especially if there’s a four-point swing.”
But he knows it’s going to be far from easy.
“They’re going to present a lot (of problems),” Smith said of the Blue Jackets. “They play us pretty well. They’re a good defensive team. I think we’ve struggled a little bit with them, especially last year. They’re a good team and they work hard. They’re on a little bit of a roll so we’re going to have to have our stuff together and go out and play a simple game.”
Detroit won the first meeting between the two teams, a 2-1 victory at The Joe on Oct. 15. But nearly five months later, the Wings are without their four starting centers, Pavel Datsyuk (knee), Stephen Weiss (sports hernia), Darren Helm (head) and Joakim Andersson (broken foot), and captain Henrik Zetterberg (back). Helm is the only one of those five players who did not dress against Columbus in October.
With a 22-season playoff streak on the line and a list of injuries that seems just as long, there may be a sense of stress in the Wings locker room, but that’s not unfamiliar territory as of late.
“It’s been like this for the last 4-5 years, playing our way in,” Howard said. “Even after the Olympics in 2010 we went on a serious run to get in the playoffs. It’s been like this for a little bit. I think guys in here don’t press the panic button. We just go out and continue to play.
“We need that stress to understand the significance of each and every game. Every game means so much.”
And that isn’t about to change anytime soon. Beginning Friday, the club has games every other night for the remainder of March, and defenseman Danny DeKeyser knows that each one of them can make or break Detroit’s playoff push.
"Every game is a huge game now,” said DeKeyser. “If you're not getting two points on any night that you're playing, there's usually somebody else who is and they're going to jump ahead of you. It's just one of those things where you have to play hard every night and you just gotta pick up points every single night. When you don't, other teams are doing it."
Forward Drew Miller knows the Wings can as well. Even though they’re without Datsyuk, Weiss, Helm, Andersson, Zetterberg, Jonas Gustavsson (groin), Daniel Cleary (knee) and Mikael Samuelsson, Miller believes if everyone in Detroit’s lineup contributes, there’s no reason the club can’t earn two points every night.
“Guys gotta step up, different guys gotta step up and score and play well,” Miller said. “It's tough having your big guys out but I think we've played enough games now that we feel comfortable that we can win with the lineup we have."
NHL RULE CHANGES: Overtime and video review formats are expected to be the main issues discussed at the annual March meeting of the NHL’s general managers that began today in Bocaratone, Florida. The meetings will run through Wednesday.
The alternative overtime options include increasing the length of overtime or adding a 3-on-3 element before advancing to a shootout.
“I guess maybe that will give it more of a chance of not going to a shootout and ties and everything,” Smith said of extending the overtime period. “I guess if I had to vote I probably would vote that way. But then again, some for these times it’s going to be longer nights and you play these back-to-backs and it will be really tough on some teams and what not. I see the pros and cons for both but I’m not sure.”
The GMs are also expected to discuss expanding video review to determine whether or not a goal has been scored.
“I think video review is a great thing when it’s obvious everyone in the rink knows,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Just get the call right. I don’t know how many video reviews you want or coach’s call or any of that. To me, when they knew the puck had hit the mesh, get it right.”
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