Wednesday night in Pittsburgh the Detroit Red Wings secured their 23rd consecutive playoff berth by stealing a point against the Penguins. In the dying embers of the game, a Riley Sheahan slap shot deflected off the stick of Pens’ defenseman Paul Martin and over the top of Marc-Andre Fleury for the playoff clinching goal.
You couldn’t have scripted it any other way. The combination of young guns and lucky bounces truly defines how the Red Wings were able to make the playoffs and continue the historic postseason streak.
To showcase that point, I have picked out the top 5 reasons why the Detroit Red Wings made the playoffs.
5. Netting a Goal
The Red Wings caught a few lucky breaks along the way. The obvious one that comes to mind is the game-tying goal on January 18 against the Los Angeles Kings. The puck that went up into the netting and came back down into the goal with just over 30 seconds left to go in regulation. The Wings went on to win the game in overtime and run away with 2 huge points.
The momentum they gained from that fluke victory carried the Wings to a 7-3-2 record in their next 12 games. Including a thrilling shootout victory over the Chicago Blackhawks and knocking off the Montreal Canadians twice during that time span. A huge turnaround considered they entered the game versus the Kings on back-to-back 1-0 shutout losses.
4. Mike Babcock
Now known as the head coach with the most wins in Detroit Red Wings franchise history after collecting victory number 414, Mike Babcock is in the running for the Jack Adams Award as the best coach in the NHL this season. Only fitting considering it was Jack Adams he pasted to take the top spot when the Red Wings beat the Sabres 4-2 on April 8th.
Being a head coach is tough, they never get enough credit when a team does well and always take the blame when their team falters. By all accounts this was probably the toughest season Mike Babcock even had to face. The injuries were never ending and he was left to plug the holes with inexperienced Grand Rapids Griffins. Turns out it was a blessing in disguise. I’m unwilling to give Babcock all the credit for his ability to keep the Wings afloat, but he did work his magic to create lines that helped the young players produce at a NHL level right away. For any coach that’s a hard task to accomplish.
3. Unsung Heroes
My scapegoat category because there were a lot of Red Wings that deserve at least a small mention for their contributions. I’ll just rattle a few of them off.
Daniel Alfredsson for his leadership when Pavel Datysuk and Henrik Zetterberg were both out injured. Jonas Gustavsson stepped up when Jimmy Howard struggled early into the season. Danny DeKeyser and Brendan Smith both improved dramatically on the blue line. Darren Helm sparking the team full of energy again when he recovered from his injury about a month ago. Luke Glendening made a name for himself as a grinder and effective penalty killer with Drew Miller. Lastly, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan gave the offense much needed depth in the scoring department creating the “Kid Line” with…
2. Tomas Tatar
The MVP of the 2013 AHL playoffs and Calder Cup champion has been a revelation this season. After being a healthy scratch for 8 out of the first 9 games of the season, Babcock finally woke up and decided to give Tatar a chance. Tomas didn’t look back. His 19 goals and 19 assists this year has him ranked 6th in points on the Red Wings with 38. Surprisingly enough, ahead of Pavel Datsyuk who only has 35 points in his limited 44 games played. Who would have guessed that at the beginning of the season?
Tatar has had some of best Red Wings’ moments this season including his game-winning goal against the Kings on January 11 with the point to the heavens to honor the passing of his father, the dazing deke between two Dallas Stars players for a goal, or the end-to-end rush against the Boston Bruins for the perfectly placed wrap-around goal. The list goes on and on. He has been a bundle of joy to watch and the scary part is he is still developing his talents.
1. Gustav Nyquist
That leaves Gustav Nyquist as the number 1 reason why the Detroit Red Wings were able to make the playoffs. In my opinion, Nyquist is hands down and unquestionably the Red Wings’ most valuable player this season. His 28 goals lead the team in scoring and he has only played in 56 of the 81 games this season. Do the math and that averages out to 41 goals in 82 games. That would have put Gus 3rd in the NHL goals behind Alex Ovechkin (51) and Corey Perry (43).
Salary cap reasons kept him down to start the season but since then he was been the hottest player in the NHL. Without Nyquist the Wings are nowhere near a playoff spot because not only did he score goals, he scored clutch goals. His 6 game-winning goals ties for 15th best in the NHL.
The offense was left crippled when Hank and Pavel went down and Nyquist basically filled that void all by himself. The scary part, at 24 years old he still has room to grow…
Hockeytown, take a sigh of relief, the Detroit Red Wings did it. The streak lives on.
Bring on the playoffs. Boston or Pittsburgh be aware, this team isn’t going down without a fight.
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