Consecutive wins have rekindled Wings' playoff hopes

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Last week, the Red Wings were a team considered to be on the verge of collapse, destined for an early offseason.

Tuesday, after having defeated Pittsburgh and Montreal, fans were thinking about the playoffs again.

Amazing what two unexpected victories and the NHL’s jumbled, air-tight playoff picture can do for a team’s expectations.

With the second half of the regular season beginning, the Red Wings are realistic about their playoff chances.

They’ve dug themselves a huge hole. But it doesn’t mean they’re completely out of this thing, either.

Thomas Vanek remembers several seasons ago being with the Minnesota Wild.

“It wasy my first year in Minny (2015) and we had a two-percent chance of making it (at mid-season) and we put a good second half together and we were right back in the picture,” said Vanek, whose recent play gives the Red Wings second-half hope. “We beat St. Louis that year (in the first round).

“I understand some of the outside criticism when they look at this team and say It's not a playoff team. At times, the way we play, we’re probably not. You guys are right.

“But the good thing here is we have great leadership. We do believe in each other. We know we have to get together and work, but when we do things right, we can win games against the best of them.”

The Red Wings entered Tuesday six points behind Philadelphia for the final wild-card spot, but they would have to hurdle five teams to reach the Flyers.

The Red Wings were only four points from Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division and an automatic playoff berth (the top three teams in the division automatically make the playoffs).

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But three teams separate Toronto and the Red Wings, and more dire for the Red Wings, Toronto and Ottawa (one of the teams ahead of the Red Wings, and tied with Toronto with 48 points) had also played three games less than the Red Wings.

So those teams could well be accumulating points in the games ahead when the Red Wings are idle.

“I wish we would be higher in the standings, but we just got to keep going,” Vanek said. “We have a good thing going on with our line combinations, but we need to win games.

“It’s two good home wins. The next 10 games are huge for us.”

Two good home wins. No doubt, defeating the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins and Atlantic Division-leading Canadiens were that, showing the Red Wings at their best.

They played two distinct differently teams — Pittsburgh offensive-minded, Montreal defensive — and won both ways, and looked good doing it.

“It’s good to see we can play both kind of games,” forward Frans Nielsen said. “(Monday) there wasn’t as many chances in both ends as the last game (Saturday against Pittsburgh). But it’s good to see that we have that ability.”

Said coach Jeff Blashill: “As a coach you want perfection, you want to be great defensively and score lots of goals but the game doesn’t always go that way. Sometimes games can get into track meets and you’ve got to outscore your opponent.

“Pittsburgh’s a team that plays in a way that you’re going to get opportunities for sure. But they’re going to get opportunities, too. Montreal plays a little different. It was a pretty tight game. We’ve got to make sure over the long haul that we’re real good defensively and we were real good defensively (against Montreal).”

The goaltending of Jared Coreau — now 5-1-1 this season with a .911 save percentage — in the victories over Pittsburgh and Montreal (he’s likely to get the start Wednesday against Boston) gives the Red Wings one other spark and glimmer of optimism.

There’s a long way to go.

But two impressive victories certainly rejuvenated what looked like improbable playoff expectations.

“We know we are capable of putting together wins if we play like this,” Vanek said. “When we stay patient, we can win against anyone.”

Bruins at Red Wings 

Faceoff: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Joe Louis Arena

TV/radio: NBC Sports Network, 97.1 FM

Outlook: Boston (23-19-5, 51 points) are second in the Atlantic Division but have played more games than other teams in the conference … The Bruins are coming off an ugly 4-0 loss Monday to the New York Islanders …They’ve been a good road team (13-8-5).