1. Washington – running away with the Presidents’ Trophy. (1)
2. Phoenix – Ilya Bryzgalov is Vezina worthy. (UR)
3. San Jose – losers of five straight. (2)
4. Chicago – losing Campbell will hurt. (3)
5. Vancouver – Samuelsson out 2-3 weeks. (5)
8. Detroit – big win over Calgary to begin western Canada trip. (11)
Just get in.
That’s got to be the mantra thrown around the Red Wings’ locker room over the final 11 games of the regular season.
And then let’s see what happens.
How would you like to be the Chicago Blackhawks and get forced to play Detroit in the first round of the playoffs? The Wings are 2-2-1 against Chicago this season.
How about the biggest-top-seed-choke artists the Western Conference has ever seen – the San Jose Sharks? The Sharks have finished first in the Pacific Division four out of the last seven seasons, and two other times came in second. They’ve reached the Western Conference finals just once in that timeframe. Detroit is also 3-0-1 against San Jose this season.
And then there’s Vancouver. In his three previous seasons with the Canucks, goalie Roberto Luongo has led them to the postseason twice, bowing out in the Western Conference semifinals both times. And prior to last night, the Wings were 2-1-0 against the Canucks this season.
That, as of Saturday night, is how the top three seeds in the Western Conference looked.
If I were on the Wings’ coaching staff I’d not only keep a close eye on the teams battling for the final spot in the playoffs, but I’d keep close tabs on who’s taking seeds No. 1 through No. 3 once the postseason begins.
Less travel would be more appealing if I was a team needing to play the top dogs each round of the playoffs.
But before we get ahead of ourselves there’s a little something the Wings have to do before looking at who their first-round opponent will be and that’s make the playoffs.
Friday night in Edmonton, it looked like a case of divine intervention.
Trailing 2-1 to the Oilers, Pavel Datsyuk somehow got a pass onto the stick of a wide-open Brian Rafalski, who buried a shot by rookie goaltender Davan Dubnyk with two tenths of a second left in regulation to give the Wings a much needed point.
They wound up losing in a shootout, but still maintained the eighth seed with 81 points despite being tied in points with the Calgary Flames. (The Wings hold the tiebreaker over the Flames by winning the head-to-head series.)
Although the mood in the locker room seemed pretty upbeat, according to published reports, for at least getting one-point in what looked like a sure loss, the fact remains they also left a point on the ice to the worst team in the National Hockey League.
Of Detroit’s last 11 games, six came against teams that aren’t making the postseason and all but one of those is at Joe Louis Arena. Three are against Columbus and one apiece with Minnesota, St. Louis and Edmonton.
But as in life there are no guarantees.
Despite being the league’s bottom dwellers, the Oilers have won all three meetings thus far with the Wings, two of which ended in a shootout. Detroit also has a losing record with the Blues. They’ve had just one win in the first five meetings with St. Louis.
Having those three games left with the Blue Jackets, all of which will occur in a nine-day period in April, almost makes the Wings an assured lock to make the playoffs. The Wings are 2-0-1 and have owned them since Columbus got a franchise and were lodged in the Central Division.
Yes, Detroit is flirting with its first non-playoff season since 1989-90.
Yes, they’re going to finish with fewer than 48 wins for the first time in more than a decade.
Yes, the toll of three straight trips deep in the playoffs, the last two ending in the Stanley Cup finals, has to be taking a toll on many of these players.
But folks, the Wings are going to make the playoffs. The odds are in their favor.
All the Wings need to do is win and they’re in.