Division, not wild card, could be Wings' path to playoffs
Detroit – Maybe it’s time for Red Wings fans to shift their focus from the Flyers to the Bruins.
The Wings have 87 points and trail the Flyers by two in the Eastern Conference wild-card standings.
But Detroit is just one spot out of third place in the Atlantic Division – a position currently held by the Bruins with 88 points.
The top three teams in each division plus two wild-card teams make the playoffs.
Both the Bruins and Red Wings have five games left. And next Wednesday and Thursday, the Wings play the Flyers and Bruins on back-to-back nights. That two-game set likely will decide whether the Red Wings make the playoffs for a 25th consecutive season.
“We’re thinking about the playoffs, we know what’s at stake,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “We know exactly where we’re at in the standings. We know we have everything in our own hands.
“We’re playing the teams that we’re fighting for playoff spots. We know what is at stake and that should mean even more urgency.
“But sometimes that can jam things up and we just have to get loose again.”
Coach Jeff Blashill wants to see improvement defensively. The Wings have given up 2.69 goals per game on the season, but in 14 games this month they’ve surrendered five or more goals four times and 49 total goals (3.5 average).
“The month of March we’ve given up to many goals; we have to do a better job for sure,” Blashill said. “We’ve been able to score goals and I have confidence we’ll continue. We just have to clean up some mental errors.”
The final five-game sprint to the finish line begins Friday as the Red Wings host Minnesota.
“We’re worried about this year and making the playoffs and giving ourselves a chance,” Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader said. “We still control our own destiny, which is a good thing, but we just have to start winning some games and find ways to keep leads.”
Blashill changed lines in Thursday's practice, switching Brad Richards and Anthony Mantha.
Richards skated with Pavel Datsyuk and Darren Helm, while Mantha was with Luke Glendening and Andreas Athanasiou.
The experience Richards has, plus his defensive awareness, may have played into the switch.
“He’s been through lots in his career,” Blashill said of Richards. “In the third period he certainly knows how to chip pucks out, chip pucks in and still make plays when the plays are there to be made.
“He’s got lots of points in this league (929). When the pressure is on, he keeps a cool head and makes good decisions.”
Tampa Bay, 93 points (six games left)
Florida, 93 points (six)
Boston, 88 points (five)
Detroit, 87 points (five)
N.Y. Islanders, 91 points (seven games left)
Philadelphia, 89 points (six)
Detroit, 87 points (five)
DETROIT: Friday Minnesota, Saturday at Toronto, Wednesday Philadelphia, Thursday at Boston, Saturday April 9 at N.Y. Rangers.
BOSTON: Friday at St. Louis, Sunday at Chicago, Tuesday Carolina, Thursday Detroit, Saturday April 9 Ottawa.
PHILADELPHIA: Saturday Ottawa, Sunday at Pittsburgh, Wednesday at Detroit, Thursday Toronto, Saturday April 9 Pittsburgh, Sunday April 10 at N.Y. Islanders.