DETROIT – Captain Henrik Zetterberg wasn’t going to let the Detroit Red Wings consecutive trips to the postseason end on his watch.
The team’s newest captain had 10 points over the Wings’ season-best, season-ending, four-game winning streak to extend the Wings’ visits to the playoffs for a 22nd consecutive season, which is the longest active in the four major sports.
“I think everyone did,” said Zetterberg when asked if he didn’t want the streak to end under his watch. “No one wanted to be a part of that, not making playoffs. A lot of guys have been here for a long time and we just wanted to give it another run here.”
The Wings’ streak began in 1991.
“We want to play in the postseason,” Zetterberg said. “It doesn’t matter if we had been there 22 times or 21 times or three times in a row, we want to play playoff hockey.”
“Nobody wants to be a part of a streak like that breaking,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “It’s good to keep that going and hopefully we can do some damage in the playoffs.”
Zetterberg, who was named captain prior to the start of the season to replace Nicklaus Lidstrom, had two goals in Detroit’s 3-0 win over Dallas to clinch the seventh seed in the Western Conference.
“This time of year it seems his game gets better and better,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “He knows how to throw the team on his back and go to work.
“The urgency was there, we knew what was at stake,” Howard added. “We’ve been playing playoff hockey for a while and for us to come into the last week and get the job done was really special. I feel great for Z.”
Zetterberg has two goals and eight assists over his last 10 games.
“This is why he’s captain,” linemate Pavel Datsyuk said. “He just played hard the whole season. When we needed, he stepped in and pulled the team.”
Being reunited with Datsyuk on a line, along with Justin Abdelkader, has also helped down the stretch.
“I don’t think Z is an emerging leader, he’s been a leader for a long time and Nick (Lidstrom) would tell you the same thing,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s one of those guys who knows how to compete.
“A lot of people think it’s Pavel and Z are about skill, (but) you saw (Saturday) how heavy they played and how determined they are,” Babcock continued. “The best athletes, the best in any profession, are beyond determined and passionate about what they do and those guys set the example for our team and don’t let us off the hook.”
Datsyuk assisted on all three goals Saturday had has two goals and six assists in the last three games.
“We got better as the year went on,” Zetterberg said. “One thing we did all year was we work hard, we had a lot of new faces and guys that really hadn’t played in the situation. We got better as the year went on, the special teams got better and that helps winning games.”
The Wings outscored their final four opponents, 15-3, giving them 56 points and a matchup with the Anaheim Ducks, which could began as early as Tuesday.
“We’ve gotten better,” Babcock said. “I’ve said it all along and you guys don’t believe me but we’ve continually gotten better. We feel that strongly as a group. We’ve gotten better defensively. We’ve finally got a way to play to allow the guys to be successful.”
The Wings were in a dogfight with Minnesota, Columbus and Dallas to grab one of the two remaining playoff spots in the Western Conference when the week began.
“That was the thought going into this final week, we knew we had to pull off a lot of wins just to be able to get in,” Kronwall said. “With Pav and Hank, maybe the two best players in the game right now and Howie coming up big for us, we were able to pull this off.”