April 18, 2013 at 1:00 am

Gregg Krupa

Debacle against Flames might serve as cruel lesson to young Wings

Steve Begin scores into an unprotected net after a giveaway by Jimmy Howard in the third period. (Derek Leung / Getty Images)

What the Red Wings gave away Wednesday in Calgary was the basis of considerable optimism: The ability to control their own fate.

Now, much about qualifying for the playoffs is in the hands of the Stars, who play two games before the Wings play again, Saturday.

The Red Wings also gave the Blue Jackets a big boost, allowing them to edge into sole possession of the eighth and final playoff spot. But the Wings have a game at hand on Columbus, and, at least to that extent, might still determine their own fate.

What the debacle in Calgary means is that, in the next two nights, the Stars can seize control of the race for eighth.

If this was tennis, the Red Wings would have lost the lead and the serve.

For at least the moment, the Blue Jackets lead, the Stars serve and the Wings wait.

The Stars play the Canucks Thursday night, in Dallas. On Friday, they play the Blues in St. Louis.

By then, they could be two points ahead of the Wings. By then, the Blue Jackets, who play the Kings Thursday, could be three ahead.

It is what the Red Wings created with their late start in the first period against the pesky Flames and two wretched puck-handling mistakes in the third.

The Wings must watch and wait, knowing that by the time they play the Canucks Saturday in Vancouver they may be in dire need of help from other teams to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in 21 seasons.

It is a cruel lesson. Many young players on the roster have not played in these circumstances in the NHL.

The older ones ought to know the cost of tardiness and carelessness, this late in the season.

Survival mode

So, the resolve deep in the chests and heads of all Red Wings must be: First, no more taking deep breaths before starting.

No more defensemen losing the puck, like some live grenade, into the feet of their goalie, where he is left to kick it about while he skates back to his crease.

And no more Jimmy Howard panicking when his mates have completely abandoned him on a shoot-in. Last night, they did and the puck came the corner where goalies are forbidden to touch it, while an opposing forward sped at Howard.

Handling the puck is not Howard's forte. It likely never will be. No one knows that better than his teammates. Making it harder for him is unwise and courts disaster.

It has been clear for months that this Red Wings' roster is capable of more mistakes than the team has made in many years, if only because of all the new faces.

All the more reason for the older guys to play flawlessly, especially now.

Unfortunately, what yet another frustrating late night in Calgary with the venerable Miikka Kiprusoff in goal produced is a degree of powerlessness that the Red Wings must now hope to survive.

Looking ahead

Others control their fate, too.

The Stars play the Canucks in Dallas, Thursday night. They are 1-1 this season, beating them 4-3 February 15 in Vancouver, and losing 4-3 February 21 in Dallas.

The Stars play the Blues in St. Louis, Friday. They are 1-1 this season, losing to the Blues 4-3 Jan. 26 in Dallas, and winning 4-1 March 3 in Dallas.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets play the Kings in Los Angeles, Thursday night. They are 0-2 against the defending Stanley Cup champions, losing 4-2 Feb. 5 in Columbus and 2-1 Feb. 15 in Los Angeles.

The fact that the Wings were 1-3-1 against the Blue Jackets and 0-2-1 against the Flames this season must be particularly galling, for them.

They are also 3-5-2 in the past 10, while the Blue Jackets are 7-3 and the Stars 6-4. Not the best performance at the stretch.

But this is not about the milk that spilled. It is about the next 10 days, and the six games the Stars play, the five the Red Wings play and the four the Blue Jackets play.

In those games, the Stars' opponents are 137-85-32 to date. That is a 61.7 winning percentage.

The Wings' five opponents are 102-72-28, a 58.6 winning percentage.

The Blue Jackets' opponents are 82-66-22, winning 55.4 percent.

The Stars and Blue Jackets play April 25 in Dallas, the second-from-last game of the season for both teams.

The Red Wings play the Stars April 27 in Dallas, the last game of the season.

There should be plenty of motivation for the Red Wings to get going at the drop of the puck at that start of the game, in each of their last five. And they now know how it feels to have sloppy mistakes gnawing at them the morning after a game crucial to their playoff chances, this late in the season.

They need to win.

And, now, they need a little help, too.