Red Wings take ‘professional’ approach to stretch run

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Montreal — Tanking to get a better draft position in late June?

No way, it appears, with the Red Wings. They may not be winning every night, but continue to play hard — and, yes, have won three of their last four games.

Detroit Red Wings' Robbie Russo (18) hangs on to Montreal Canadiens' Max Pacioretty (67) during the second period.

That includes Tuesday’s impressive 2-1 overtime victory over Montreal, which leads the Atlantic Division and is generally regarded as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

Don’t expect the Red Wings to fall flat in these final days of the regular season.

“You still have to be professional,” said goaltender Jimmy Howard, who had 35 saves and continued his outstanding personal season. “This organization has given us all a lot. Our fans and their dedication, we owe it to both of them to go out and play our best.”

This entire month of March, since the trade deadline when the Red Wings were sellers trading Brendan Smith (New York Rangers), Thomas Vanek (Florida) and Steve Ott (Montreal), has made for an unnatural, peculiar stretch run to the end of the season.

Normally, the Red Wings are playing for playoff seeding, and were eyeing a 26th consecutive playoff berth this season.

But that streak likely will end at 25, and for the first time, a lot of these veterans are playing out the string.

But defenseman Niklas Kronwall feels the importance of this particular stretch run is vital, in an effort to mold the younger players on the roster.

“Now might be more important than ever, doing the right things and getting the right habits down,” Kronwall said of playing the remaining games professionally. “If you start faltering with that right now, then the guys coming up will see that and think that’s the norm.

“It doesn’t work like that. It’s not how you win. You keep working on the habits every day and doing the right things and seeing the work ethic every day. It’s something we’re trying to focus on through the last stretch here.”

Coach Jeff Blashill has consistently viewed the leadership of Kronwall, captain Henrik Zetterberg, Frans Nielsen, and Justin Abdelkader, among other veteran Red Wings, has been vital in maintaining the organization’s winning culture.

And Tuesday’s victory was another example.

“Our competitive level was excellent,” Blashill said. “I continue to stay our culture, and this has been said by other guys who’ve been in other places and come play for us, our culture is excellent. We have to make sure we maintain that culture, so you have to continue to compete even when times are tough and times are tough.

“Zetterberg leads the way, and Kronwall, Abdelkader, we have character throughout our lineup. Sometimes you get kicked and you have to get back up and keep competing.

“That’s what we did (Tuesday).”

Lesson learned

Anthony Mantha, playing in front of his family and friends in hometown Montreal, scored the winner in Tuesday’s overtime.

Mantha’s 15th goal ended a six-game goal-scoring drought and first point in five games since returning from being a healthy scratch for two games.

“When you play the right way, you want to get rewarded and he got rewarded for that,” Blashill said. “Throughout the game, he competed hard. An offensive player wants to score, it gives you confidence.”

Mantha admitted the last few weeks have been difficult, but the learning experience proved beneficial.

“I just had to skate more, shoot more pucks, and keep being good in my defensive zone,” Mantha said. “It paid off in the end.”