DETROIT >> If the Detroit Red Wings have proved anything this season it’s that they can play through adversity.
And play pretty well.
With a roster filled with a bunch of youngsters, Detroit qualified for the playoffs a 23rd consecutive season after its 4-3 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Wednesday night.
“That tells a lot about them as (people) and players, but I also believe it comes from the coaching staff, from the beginning they gave them that chance, didn’t make it a big deal, it’s just ‘you can do this,’” Daniel Alfredsson said. “That gave them confidence and they definitely made the most of it. Coach gave them a chance they repaid him with solid play.”
One of the youngsters, Riley Sheahan, scored the tying goal Wednesday that guaranteed the Wings a spot in the postseason.
Another youngster, Gustav Nyquist, leads the team with 28 goals and is tied for second in points with 48. And all that came in 55 games.
Tomas Tatar is sixth on the team in scoring with 19 goals and 18 assists, which is two goals and two points ahead of world-class center Pavel Datsyuk.
“For sure, no question,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said when asked if the play of the former Grand Rapids Griffins saved their season. “We couldn’t have done it without them. They came here and took jobs, they’re not going anywhere.
“They’re real good players that keep getting better and will be part of us for a long time,” Babcock continued. “What I liked is Jimmy Nill and his staff, before Jimmy moved on, did a real good job because we have these kids. (Jeff Blashill) did a real good job in the minors with them.”
Detroit ranks second in man games lost, according to mangameslost.com, and large chunk of those missing have been top-line talent.
Henrik Zetterberg has played just 45 games this year due to a bad back. Datsyuk, who only returned recently, has dressed for 43 games.
“We knew it was going to be tough, we had similar situation in Ottawa last year when we lost (Jason) Spezza, (Erik) Karlsson, (Milan) Michalek and (Craig) Anderson for long periods of time,” Alfredsson said. “If you get something going and get a good feeling in the locker room you can accomplish a lot of things and I think that’s what we’ve done.”
Zetterberg, who underwent successful surgery on Feb. 21 to remove part of a disc that was rubbing against a nerve and caused severe back pain, is supposed to be available sometime during the first round of the playoffs.
The team also expects to have Jonathan Ericsson back during the first round as well. Ericsson had successful surgery to stabilize his fractured finger and repair a partially torn tendon on March 19.
“We’re a good group, we have fun and we know how to work for each other,” Alfredsson said. “It’s kind of contagious when you see everybody going. Everybody kind of drags along and now they pull their share as well.”
The Wings, who last missed the playoffs in the 1989-90 season, will go into the postseason as one of two wild cards and therefore will play either top-seeded Boston or the second-seeded Penguins.
Detroit went 3-0-1 against the Bruins this year and ended the year 1-1-1 against Pittsburgh.
“I’m not spending a whole lot of time worrying about this stuff,” Babcock said. “We’re just in and whoever we get we’re going to be a tough out.”
Columbus and the Wings both have 91 points, but the Blue Jackets hold the tiebreaker with more wins in regulation.
“I like the way we’re playing,” Alfredsson said. “We’re going to play Pittsburgh or Boston, two very strong teams, but we’re playing well. I don’t think we’ll go in and be the favorites but we’re going to keep doing what we’ve done all year and that’s go out there and give it everything we have.”
Philadelphia and the New York Rangers could also slip back into one of the two wild card spots. Both of those teams also hold the tiebreaker over Detroit, which close the season Friday at home against Carolina and then Sunday in St. Louis.
“I think we’ve worked extremely hard to get to this point,” Alfredsson said. “This group has overcome a lot of adversity and that makes it even more fun. I think we’ll try to finish off strong here and go into the playoffs feeling good.”