April 23, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Gregg Krupa

Youthful determination fuels Red Wings playoff drive

Detroit -- There is a lot going on here.

A big win against a playoff contender for the Red Wings. The mad-dash scramble for the final playoff position. A relatively young, anxious roster playing for a franchise that has not missed the Stanley Cup playoffs since 1990.

Everyone scrutinizing the standings, factoring in the scores.

And the Wings even got three power-play goals in one game for the second time all season.

But amid drama and action that feels almost like the playoffs is something less discernable, which ultimately might be far more important.

Whether by design or necessity — and which might long be debated — the Red Wings went with a ton of youth this season, their first in the post-Nicklas Lidstrom era. And now, the relatively inexperienced are getting lots of ice time in games like they have never played.

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Mike Babcock says it is the players, not him, who decide by their performance who plays. And so with Dan DeKeyser and Brendan Smith in the lineup and veteran late-season performers like Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo out, it appears that DeKeyser and Smith's foot speed and quick puck movement trumped the veterans.

Jakub Kindl is a fixture.

Joakim Andersson is out there constantly and responsibly, along with Gustav Nyquist and, of course, Damien Brunner, whose late first-period goal against the Coyotes Monday was critical to the big victory.

Cory Emmerton almost seems like the old guard at this point.

Back in the pre-salary cap days, when Mike and Marian Ilitch were free to spend and Scotty Bowman scoured the Social Security lists for defensemen and spare forwards to add some seasoning, dressing such youth would have seemed seditious.

Now, it might be the best thing the Red Wings accomplish this season.

For the Wings management to get this roster properly restocked, they need to know what their prospects can do. And doing it with intense pressure pumped into the situation, is a different, prime sort of "doing it," and all the more welcome.

It also might engender some long term benefit. If management accomplishes the turnaround, it will be good to know guys like Andersson, DeKeyser, Emmerton, Kindl, Nyquist and Smith have appeared in games like they are playing this week.

Babcock rejuvenated

Perhaps that is why Babcock and general manager Ken Holland seem so genuinely upbeat about their team, even as it labors mightily to finish eighth.

"I think it's fun to be in big games because players get to tell you how hard they compete, how much drive-train they have," Babcock said. "And, to me, those things all come in front of skill, this time of year.

"I'm excited to see how we do here."

The young guys with the most to prove are pretty excited, too. Playing in Frozen Four, as Smith has, is fine.

Playing in the CCHA championship, as DeKeyser has, is OK.

Playing in the Swedish Elitserien playoffs, as Brunner and Andersson have done, helps.

But, by their words and in their eyes, one can tell this is different.

It is big-time hockey on the biggest stage, where careers are forged.

"It's playoff hockey, right now," Smith said. "A lot of pressure.

"We don't want to be that team — especially being a rookie — coming in and not making the playoffs after 21 years of them making it."

Brunner waited to score his second goal in 20 games until it counted for a lot — building a two-goal lead in the last minute of the first period.

With the score 2-0 and the Red Wings winning eight minutes into the second period, DeKeyser, with a flick of his long stick six feet in front of Jimmy Howard, batted away a shot from the Coyotes' David Moss that would have cut the lead in half.

DeKeyser almost looked like ...

Well, that comparison should wait, in fairness, for the kid from Macomb Township.

But this is what rebuilding on the fly feels like in the NHL, especially these days. The Red Wings might be getting it done.

And they just might make the playoffs while they are at it.

gkrupa@detroitnews.com

Justin Abdelkader, one of the young Wings, sends Zbynek Michalek of the Coyotes into Detroit's bench. / David Guralnick/Detroit News