DETROIT >> If the Detroit Red Wings want to extend their record streak of reaching the postseason then a win tonight against the Edmonton Oilers is of the utmost importance.
“We talked about it after the Olympic break that we have to win two of every three (games),” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We got off to a good start with that and (now) we’ve lost two in a row. So we can’t … we have to bounce back. The great thing about the game is I hear all the time about these four-pointers. I’ve never seen one in my life. There’s a game here today. You win today and it doesn’t look like that. So just keep grinding.”
A win tonight and the Wings can do is move into a tie in points for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with the Philadelphia Flyers, who will have played one less game than Detroit.
But more importantly, a win moves the Wings just four points behind Montreal for the top wild card spot with still playing one less game than the Canadiens.
“We’re in playoff mode now, we have been for a while,” Brian Lashoff said. “Every game is big but against a team like (the Oilers), they have a lot of young guys who are playing well lately, so we have to go out from the drop of the puck and go and set the tone and get these two points because they’re huge.”
The Oilers, who are coming off a 6-2 loss Thursday at St. Louis, are last in the Western Conference and are just ahead of the Buffalo Sabres in the overall standings. Edmonton gave up four unanswered goals in the third.
“I think anytime you look at a team that hasn’t won and in our league when you win everything is OK, it doesn’t matter what your record is,” Babcock said. “So we need to have some success here and not just from a ‘how-we-play’ point of view. Put the points on the board just because of the way the standings are. We’re right there, we’re right in the race. Standings aren’t an issue for us, we just have to make sure that we’re mentally strong enough to keep playing for 60 (minutes).”
The Wings have lost two straight and scored one goal in the process.
“We’ve got to win games,” said Jimmy Howard, who’ll start in goal tonight. “There’s nothing else you can say. We’ve got to go out there and execute. I think a lot of us are sick and tired of talking about it and that’s what it seems like we’ve been doing lately, just talking about it. We’ve got to go out there and do it.”
Another thing that makes tonight’s game crucial is who Detroit faces over its next three games – Chicago (Sunday), Toronto (Tuesday) and Pittsburgh (Thursday).
The Wings needed to win their final four regular season games last year to reach the playoffs for a 22nd consecutive season.
“It helps but a lot of the guys who were in that stretch run (last year) aren’t playing,” Babcock said. “But the reality is we still have good leadership and we’ve got a lot of young players who are battling for jobs in the league and no different than (Edmonton). Everyone tells you how good of a player you are, but until you do it every day in the National Hockey League and until you do it against the best players you’re a prospect, or you’re somebody that’s going to be something.
“That’s the challenge for our group right here, right now, is in our last couple of games we’ve played fine,” Babcock continued. “Just reminds me of the game last night. It’s 2-2, well, the good teams don’t know it’s 2-2, they just win the game. The team that losses says, ‘Geez, we were there.’ We were there last game. It was 1-1 with 10 minutes left in the game. One team wins that game. It ended up being 4-1. What happened in a few minutes? So the reality is you have to play the whole 60, you have to find a way to win.”
One of the new youngers added to the lineup that’s been decimated with injuries all season is Teemu Pulkkinen, who’ll make his NHL debut tonight.
“We’re going to watch, you and I at the same time, we’re both going to gather the information and we’ll have an answer for tomorrow’s paper,” Babcock said of Pulkkinen. “I’ve got no idea. I’ve never seen him besides training camp and there’s no pace there. So we’re going to watch tonight and see what he can do.”
Pulkkinen, who was recalled from Grand Rapids on Wednesday, leads the Griffins with 26 goals and 51 points. He also leads the team with 175 shots on goal.
“He’s going to get what he earns,” Babcock said. “He’s starting on the power play, he’s starting on our fourth line. We need goals and we need good players so if he can grab a bigger piece good for him.”
Henrik Zetterberg still leads the team in shots on goal with 151, followed by Justin Abdelkader (133), Tomas Tatar (130) and Daniel Alfredsson (120).