Do the math: Wings likely to make playoffs

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — Easy enough to look back at March and say it never should have gotten this close.

But some of the Red Wings say looking back is a good strategy for not seeing forward. And a big opportunity arrives tonight in a critical Atlantic Division game against the Bruins, who have recently dominated the Wings.

The Red Wings are 1-3 against the Bruins this season, 1-7 in the past two.

"We've got to stick to our structure and play a 60-minute game," defenseman Nicklas Kronwall said. "I know it sounds like a cliché, maybe. But that's kind of the way we have to play, to win.

"Boston is a really good team. They play with a lot of structure. And they just keep doing the same things, shift in and shift out.

"That's what we've got to focus on doing, in here," said Kronwall, who has recently mentioned his impatience with "talking about the same things that we need to improve, for a month now."

In the playoff race, the math is simple.

And the Red Wings know what it is. Just in case they do not follow the standings themselves — which, of course, they do — they have some large whiteboards in the hallway that connects the dressing, shower, workout and training rooms and the players' lounge.

On them, the up-to-date standings appear in large letters and numbers, every day, all season.

The current numbers suggest the odds are long against the Wings being eliminated over the last 10 days of the season.

It is likely they will play in their 24th consecutive Stanley Cup playoffs, while the next longest streak, 10 by the Sharks, is almost certain to end.

The Bruins and Senators must pass the Red Wings to prevent it.

The Senators are a long shot.

As Mike Babcock, Henrik Zetterberg and others all said after the game Tuesday, the point they earned against the Senators — which kept the gap between the teams at five points — was big.

The Wings and Senators have six games left for a possible 12 points.

The Red Wings would accomplish a lot by earning six of the possible 12 points. It almost certainly would eliminate the Senators and deliver the Wings to the playoffs.

The Senators would need all 12 points available to pass the Red Wings.

Because the Wings command a five-win gap over the Senators in the first tiebreaker, regulations and overtime wins (ROW), the Senators almost certainly must avoid a tie with the Red Wings. (The shootout was eliminated as a factor in breaking a tie because the skills competition was deemed ill-suited for determining playoff position in the NHL.)

If the Red Wings earn four of 12 points, the Senators almost certainly would require 10 of 12 points to pass them.

Even if the Wings got only two of the last 12 points available, the Senators most likely would require eight of their possible 12 to eliminate them.

While the math is much stronger for the Bruins overtaking the Red Wings, if only Boston does it, Detroit is still a wild card.

The Wings lead the Bruins by two points. The Bruins have five games left for a possible 10 points.

Again, if Red Wings garner six of the possible 12 points, the Bruins would need four wins in their last five games to tie.

As of today, the Wings have one more ROW than the Bruins. So the first tiebreaker eventually might determine whether the Red Wings or Bruins are the wild card.

Meanwhile, winning in regulation tonight, picking up two points while the Bruins get none, would go a long way toward staying ahead of them.

All of the mathematical permutations only underline a saying often uttered by coaches and players: They can only affect their own play.

Things not involving them are beyond their control, regardless. So, why consider them?

But six points in the last six games is, nonetheless, a significant goal.

"We know the positions in the standings and how important the game is, for us," said forward Justin Abdelkader, who described the game against the Bruins as "Fun. It'll be a good test.

"We have to be better. We didn't play energized last night. We just kind of set back on our heels.

"We've got to be a lot better night in and night out, if we want to compete against these teams, the rest of the way."

End of the road

Remaining games for the Red Wings, Bruins and Senators:

Red Wings (93 points)

Games remaining: Six (Home — Bruins, tonight; Capitals, Sunday; Hurricanes, April 7. Away — Wild, Saturday; Canadiens, April 9; Hurricanes, April 11)

Bruins (91 points)

Games remaining: Five (Home — Maple Leafs, Saturday. Away — Red Wings, tonight; Capitals, April 8; Panthers, April 9; Lightning, April 11)

Senators (88 points)

Games remaining: Six (Home — Capitals, Saturday; Penguins, April 7. Away — Lightning, tonight; Maple Leafs, Sunday; Rangers, April 9; Flyers, April 11)