DETROIT — Of the 28 players on the Detroit Red Wings’ roster, the bulk of them were alive the last time the organization missed the playoffs.
In 1990, Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi was 15 years old and playing junior hockey in Canada, while Detroit native and Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser was barely a month old. That spring, the Red Wings sat home and watched the Edmonton Oilers hoist their fifth Stanley Cup in seven years.
Since then, the Red Wings have set a certain NHL standard in qualifying for the playoffs for 21 straight seasons, the longest playoff qualification streak in modern professional sports.
It’s a standard that could be in jeopardy unless this year’s Red Wings go on a tear in the final week of the regular season, and then get a little help from a few other teams.
Entering today’s home game against Los Angeles, the Red Wings are in ninth place in the Western Conference with 50 points. They are one point behind eighth-place Columbus, which has 51 points. Minnesota sits seventh in the conference with 53 points.
The top eight teams in the Western Conference qualify for the playoffs, which begin April 30.
But after Monday’s 4-0 win over Phoenix, the Red Wings focused solely on themselves.
“You don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself in this situation,” Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “You tend to tense up, and you’ve got to stay as loose as possible. .”
With three games left in the regular season — today against Los Angeles, Thursday at home against Nashville and Saturday at Dallas — it’s become a playoff chase for the Red Wings. No longer is Detroit a team that is seemingly assured of a playoff spot.
The Red Wings have to fight for that berth in the final week of the regular season.
Essentially, the Red Wings are in a must-win situation this week.
“It’s going to be like that for the rest of the year,” Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said after Monday’s win.
And in the final three games of the regular season, Zetterberg anticipates a playoff-like intensity.
“It definitely helps,” Zetterberg said. “It’s nice to get these kinds of games when you have to win. Otherwise, you’re not in. Right now, it’s kind of like the playoffs. If you lose, you go home. It’s a good experience for us, and for the team.”
The 48-game season started in January after a four-month lockout of the players and made the playoff chase into a sprint, instead of an 82-game marathon during six months.
Among the Red Wings’ struggles this season have been injuries to Bertuzzi, forward Drew Miller, center Darren Helm, and center Damien Brunner; stretches in January and March in which the Red Wings went a combined 7-11-4 (including 2-4-1 in January); and the absence of Nicklas Lidstrom on the blue line, after the Hall of Fame-caliber defenseman announced his retirement in May.
Now, the Red Wings have to hustle to assemble and bring together all of their moving parts.
“In the playoffs, you have to have good goaltending, you have to have good defense, you have to have good special teams, and you have to score goals. You have to go all the way. Everything’s gotta click.
“A lot of guys here [have] done that, and been through it. We’ve gone all the way and won, we’ve gone all the way and lost the last game. We know what it takes and the more games we can have like [Phoenix], the more games that are playoff-like before the playoffs start, it’s really going to be good for us.”
Before any of that happens in the playoffs, the Red Wings have to make the playoffs.
They have three more chances to make that happen, starting today at Joe Louis Arena.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.