Red Wings brace for playoff-like series against Stars, who are looking to make a push
Detroit — The Red Wings aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs just yet. Let’s just say the odds of seeing the postseason are extremely slim.
This week’s schedule, in a way, gives the Wings a taste of a playoff series.
In a scheduling quirk — thank you, pandemic-shortened and affected NHL schedule — the Wings play the Dallas Stars four consecutive games.
The Wings are in Dallas for games Monday and Tuesday, then return for games Thursday and Saturday at Little Caesars Arena.
Are these the playoffs? No, of course not.
But there’s a good bet these games will have a feel of something extra, given how important they are for Dallas.
“(We’ll) treat it like first four games of a playoff series, two games there and we have two games at home,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “It’s going to be physical and going to be tight checking and we need to respond to that. It’s a great challenge.
“I know our guys will look at it like that, and we have to step up and rise to the occasion for that one.”
The defending Stanley Cup finalist Stars are three points behind Nashville (49-46) for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division. Chicago is in between with 47 points.
Dallas has played two fewer games than Chicago (45-43) and three fewer games than Nashville (46).
The Stars likely see these games this week as an opportunity to move up in the standings, making up some of their games in hand against the Central basement-dwelling Red Wings.
“We knew it (the four games with Dallas) was there; it’s been there all year and we play the schedule we’re given,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “In the end, it’s about getting ready for Monday and we know it’s going to be a heck of a challenge.
“They are fighting for their playoff lives and they’re a heck of a team. We have to go in and play better hockey than we did (Saturday, a 4-0 loss to Chicago).”
The Wings have been consistent in their message lately about treating the remainder of the schedule — there are 10 games left for them — with the utmost importance.
These four particular games have the unique feel of facing a quality opponent competing for a playoff spot — a big, heavy opposing team, and a definite opportunity for the Wings to show they can face a late-season test.
“It’s going to be challenging; they’re fighting for their lives right now,” Larkin said. “Every team is, so are we. It’s a great challenge, something that we need to step up to. They are a team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, they know playoff hockey and I’m sure they’re treating every game here on out like playoff hockey.
“We have to come out ready to play. It’s going to be physical and it’s going to be playoff hockey. It’ll be great for our team.”
The Wings were whistled for their third too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty Saturday in two games.
Blashill passionately argued the penalty, but after the game, admitted it was the right call — and wasn’t pleased by it at all.
“I’m embarrassed because the way I saw it, I was convinced it wasn’t too many men and then I look at the replay and we have about a 50-foot change,” Blashill said of a penalty that frustrates coaches and players alike. “It hasn’t been an issue all year, and then all of the sudden a lack of attention to detail, changing when we shouldn’t change. You have to make sure on your changes. It’s not situations where guys don’t know who’s up, it’s poor, poor changes.
“If you want to be a good team, your attention to detail has got to be great. Ultimately it didn’t cost us, because our penalty kill did a good job and (goaltender Jonathan) Bernier made a good save, but it’s crap; it’s not good hockey.”
The Wings assigned forward Joe Veleno (2018 first-round draft pick) to the taxi squad, but Blashill sounded doubtful of Veleno getting in either game in Dallas.
Veleno’s seven-day quarantine returning from Sweden ended Sunday, but he also has been recovering from a mild concussion/whiplash.
… The Wings lost forward Frans Nielsen (upper body) to a first-period injury Saturday. Nielsen’s status for the Dallas games was unclear, as was also the case with forwards Robby Fabbri and Evgeny Svechnikov, who missed the Chicago series.
… The Wings were 0-for-6 Saturday on the power play, a key reason for the 4-0 loss.
“Our power play was brutal,” Blashill said.
Red Wings at Stars
► Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: NBC Sports Network/97.1 FM
► Outlook: The Red Wings (16-24-6) and Dallas (17-14-12) begin a four-game series this week. … The Stars are three points from the final playoff spot in the division. … The Wings are 1-2-1 against Dallas this season.