DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings find themselves in a very unfamiliar spot this late in the regular season.
With seven games left on their schedule, the Wings have yet to lockup a berth in the playoffs, where they’ve competed for the Stanley Cup 21 consecutive seasons.
“It’s going to come right down to the wire,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Every game is huge, obviously.”
The Wings earned two points out a possible four in their back-to-back games against San Jose and Chicago, falling in a shootout to both teams.
Heading into play Saturday, Detroit holds down the eighth seed, two points up on Dallas, which had played one less came than the Wings.
The Stars made up that game Saturday night, hosting San Jose, and with a win over the Sharks would move ahead of Detroit in the standings since they hold the tiebreaker (regulation and overtime wins, or ROW) on the Wings.
Prior to Saturday, Dallas had 18 ROW, while Detroit had just 17.
“We’ve got to keep our heads high and stay focused and positive on what we have to do,” Kronwall said. “It is what it is. There’s no time for feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Phoenix (10th) and Columbus (11th) are also two points behind the Wings, but both teams have fewer ROW. The Coyotes have 15 and Blue Jackets have 14.
Minnesota is just a point ahead of Detroit in the standings as well, but also have played one less game and have more ROW (18). The Wild hosted Columbus Saturday night.
Normally at this time of the season the Wings are focused on seeding instead of just finding a way to get into the playoffs.
“You are what you are,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “This is what we earned this year. This is what our team is. We’re no better or no worse than we are. We’re just a team battling to get in the playoffs. Win a game, that’s all. To me, we take the same approach we have every year, try to win games and get better.”
The Wings’ current streak of 21 consecutive trips to the postseason is the longest active streak of any North American major professional sports leagues.
San Jose is next in the NHL with eight consecutive trips to the playoffs.
During the Wings’ current streak they’ve won their division 14 times. The lowest seed they’ve had was sixth (2009-10).
Four of Detroit’s final seven regular season games are on the road, including the next three in a row that begins tonight in Nashville.
Three of those games are against teams close to or have been eliminated from playoffs consideration. Two are against teams close to locking up spots and the other two are against teams in a similar spot as the Wings.
“The good thing is all the games matter,” forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We didn’t do that before. We’re playing playoff hockey right now. I think it’s a good test for us.”
The key games down the stretch for the Wings are a week from Monday when they host Phoenix and then close out the season on April 27 in Dallas.
“We’re still in the driver’s seat and control our own destiny,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “Now, we’ve got to look to get two points on Sunday.”
But like the Los Angeles Kings proved last season, just get into the playoffs and anything can happen. The Kings qualified as the eighth seed in the Western Conference last year and went onto win their first Stanley Cup.
“For us, it’s about going out there every single night and getting points,” Howard said. “We can’t really look too far ahead to the playoffs.”
During the Wings’ current postseason run, the New York Islanders have missed the playoffs 15 times, while Carolina and Florida both have failed to qualify 14 times.