Michigan State first-half observations: Fans boo, Gophers dominate Spartans for 17-0 lead

Wings fall in OT, clinch 24th straight playoff bid

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Montreal — The Red Wings are heading to the NHL playoffs for the 24th consecutive season.

They don't know their opponent, or whether they'll wind up in third place in the Atlantic Division or as a wild card.

But they're in.

They'll worry about the particulars later after securing a playoff berth in dramatic fashion Thursday, although losing to Montreal, 4-3 in overtime.

After not signing any unrestricted free agents in July, coach Mike Babcock wasn't sure this was a playoff team.

"I just didn't think we were good enough," Babcock said. "I didn't know some of the kids were as good as they were and obviously we have a ton (of them) in our lineup. I'm proud of the guys.

"For us to make the playoffs, to have an opportunity here, we're thrilled. Our young guys have come a long way."

Pavel Datsyuk had a goal and assist, Henrik Zetterberg had two assists, and Niklas Kronwall had an assist and played a valiant 25 minutes, 41 seconds in leading the Red Wings.

"They were outstanding and Darren Helm was a machine," Babcock said. "They feel like I do, you feel like you have an obligation to the city. You've had this run for a long time and you feel like it's your duty to keep finding a way to get in."

Even if they earned a spot this time with a somewhat spotty loss.

Montreal's Lars Eller scored at 1:21 of overtime, a bad goal allowed by Jimmy Howard from a sharp angle, completing the season sweep over the Red Wings.

It was actually, in Babcock's estimation, the third bad goal allowed by Howard in the game, keeping the goaltending problems highlighted heading into the playoffs.

"Our team played well tonight and we should have won that game," Babcock said. "The puck went in and it shouldn't have gone in."

Babcock wouldn't commit to either Howard or Petr Mrazek as the starter heading into the playoffs.

With Boston losing in Florida, 4-2, in regulation time, the Red Wings secured a playoff berth.

And with Ottawa winning, the Red Wings own a one-point lead over the Senators for third place.

The Red Wings will play in Carolina Saturday while Ottawa is in Philadelphia.

"We'll take it," Zetterberg said. "We've been talking lately about getting points and that it doesn't really matter how it looks, just get points, and we've been doing that.

"Ottawa keeps winning, there's a lot of teams in the mix, so that point was huge. Two points would have been better, but we're in and now we can move on."

Montreal tied it, 3-3, on Tomas Plekanec's power-play goal.

A Red Wings bench penalty — Brendan Smith batted the puck onto the ice while on the bench — gave Montreal a two-man advantage for 44 seconds (Danny DeKeyser was already in the box for tripping).

On the resulting two-man advantage, Plekanec's shot from a bad angle beat Howard at 11:39.

Babcock wasn't happy with Smith's penalty.

"It's crazy," Babcock said. "I knew what happened, I watched the whole thing. We should have gone to the box and it should have been a 5-on-3. Done."

Helm's shorthanded goal at 3:34 of the third period broke a 2-2 tie.

Helm intercepted a Andrei Markov pass at the blue line and broke free down the middle of the ice, then went forehand-backhand to beat goalie Carey Price.

Tomas Tatar had the Red Wings' first goal.

Andrei Markov and Jeff Petry (Ann Arbor/Orchard Lake St. Mary's) added goals for the Canadiens.

Tatar opened the scoring with his 29th goal at 10:19 of the first period.

The Red Wings went 0-for-5 on the power play, another disappointing aspect of the loss, along with the fact they will not have won two consecutive games since Feb. 28 and March 4, 19 games ago.

"There's no doubt we haven't been good enough," Kronwall said. "We haven't found that groove again that we want to get back to playing and the way we want to be playing."

The Red Wings can still play either the New York Rangers, Montreal or Tampa Bay in the playoffs.

Against Tampa Bay, the Red Wings were 1-2-1 (one overtime loss), losing both games in Tampa Bay in regulation.

Heading into Thursday's game, the Red Wings were 0-2-2 against the Canadiens, being outscored 14-5 in the process.

The Red Wings went 2-1-0 against the Rangers with two of the games going into overtime (one a victory, the other a loss).