ROMULUS – Unlike last season, the Detroit Red Wings enter this year’s playoffs on a roll.
How they played down the stretch was out of necessity since they were fighting for their playoff lives.
“Well, I think the urgency was definitely there,” goalie Jimmy Howard said Sunday evening before boarding a chartered flight to Anaheim. “Everyone realized what was on the line. Now that we’ve gotten into the playoffs we’re feeling good about ourselves and we just got to have that work over to the playoffs.”
The Wings closed the regular season on a four-game winning streak that catapulted them from outside of the postseason to the seventh seed in the Western Conference and a first-round meeting with the Anaheim Ducks that could start as early as Tuesday.
“I think the key thing was there was no panic in our dressing room when things weren’t exactly going as we planned, but we just stuck to it,” Howard said.
Last year, Detroit closed out the regular season 2-3-1 over its last six and 4-7-3 over its last 14.
The Wings were eliminated in the first round of the playoff last season in five games by Nashville.
“It’s good to see that we’re playing our best hockey when we have to and hopefully it keeps going,” defenseman Kyle Quincey said. “It’s good to see the boys scoring and the defense coming together and Jimmy’s playing great and I think everything is firing at the same time.”
The Wings are in the playoffs for a 22nd consecutive season, which is the longest active in the four major sports, but it was a struggle in this lockout shortened season.
“I hear a lot that, ‘they’re the Red Wings and they’ll just get in,’” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Well that’s just crazy. We wear the same uniform, but we’re way different than that.
“Of all the years I’ve been here this is the biggest growth we’ve ever had in one year by any team by miles,” Babcock added. “I like where we’re at. We’re in a good situation.”
And they’ve seen much too often that seeds really don’t matter at this time of the year.
That was taken to a whole new level last season by the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings were the eighth seed and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
“I think we’ve had a chip on our shoulders the whole year, especially with people counting us out and that our D corps was too young and not good enough,” defenseman Brendan Smith said. “As for the seed, you get into the playoffs and anything can go. Look at L.A. last year. They were the eighth seed and pretty much worked everybody. It was unbelievable how they went in and swept teams. Everybody is so good in this league now that anything can happen. We’re going to keep that same chip on our shoulders. It’s do or die hockey right now.”
Since the NHL began seeding playoff teams 1 through 8 in each conference in 1994, the No. 7 seed has defeated the No. 2 seed in the first round 16 times in 36 series.
“Well we are the seventh seed,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We haven’t won as many games as Chicago has. But then there are other teams that aren’t in the playoffs that would have a good chance at going all the way. You just have to play the best hockey that you can. You have to be lucky and healthy and if you get all those components together you will have a shot.”
In 2003, Anaheim, which was coached by Babcock at the time, swept the Wings.
“We’ll see,” Zetterberg said. “We’re in the postseason. You can talk about how we are or if we’re underdogs or not. We made it to the postseason and we haven’t really done anything yet. We’re looking forward to challenge of facing Anaheim and just taking it game by game.”