Even after the 5-3 lost to the Montreal Canadians yesterday the Detroit Red Wings (37-27-14) are still in control of their own destiny to clinch a wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Their odds of making the playoffs are a comfortable 90.4%, so it would take a heartbreaking collapse with 4 games left in the season to allow the Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, or New Jersey Devils to steal their spot.
Assuming the Red Wings do make the playoffs, how far can they realistically go? The current odds for the Wings to going the distance and capture their 12th Stanley Cup in franchise history is slim to none. Sportsclubstats.com currently has them at 0.4% chance to win it all while the odds makers out in Las Vegas have the Wings at a 50/1 bet.
However, don’t let the odds fool you. These Red Wings have all the ingredients to be this season’s dark horse team of the playoffs.
Call me crazy, but if they can get a little help from the hockey gods along the way they will have a shot at bringing back Lord Stanley back to Hockeytown.
Don’t believe me? I’ll give you 5 reasons why:
It takes great goaltending to win in the playoffs. Look no further than the last 8 goaltenders to lift the Cup since the 2004-05 lockout season: Corey Crawford (2013/Blackhawks), Jonathan Quick (2012/Kings), Tim Thomas (2011/Bruins), Antti Niemi (2010/Blackhawks), Marc-Andre Fleury (2009/Penguins), Chris Osgood (2008/Red Wings), Jean-Sebastian Giguere (2007/Ducks), and Cam Ward (2006/Hurricanes).
Is Jimmy Howard in the same league as these guys? Probably not, but if Howie stays hot like he has been there is no question (at least to me) that he has the ability to carry the Wings deep into the playoffs.
What’s the worst case scenario? He crumbles on the under the pressure (again?) and the Wings have to rely on their backup, Jonas Gustavsson. The funny thing is that Gustavsson’s regular season stats are better than Howard’s. With The Monster lurking in the wings and waiting for his first career playoff start the Wings have a sturdy safety net available if it has to come down to that (which I hope it doesn’t).
4. The Kid Line
The Red Wings’ secret weapon: Tomas Jurco, Tomas Tatar, and Riley Sheahan aka “The Kid Line.” Their average age is 22 years young and all they do is produce. Who would have guessed that the Wings most consistent line would be comprised of a group of forwards that led the Grand Rapids Griffins to the Calder Cup a season ago?
I wish I was one of them, but I only predicted that Tatar was ready for his breakout season. I, like most, didn’t think we would see Jurco or Sheahan for at least another 2 seasons. That’s just how the Wings developed their young players, until the unforgiving injury bug struck.
All the bad luck and players constantly making trips to injury reserve might finally be paying off in strange way because without all the injuries there would be no “Kid Line.” The Wings would still be trying to squeeze goals out of Mikael Samuelsson, Daniel Cleary, and Jordin Tootoo.
That’s like me running around trying to catch a goose… it’s just never going to happen.
3. Gustav Nyquist
Speaking of goose… I had Gustav Nyquist pegged as the Red Wings’ secret weapon until he lit up like a Christmas tree and scored 23 goals since the turn of the calendar year. Therefore, it’s no longer a surprise to other teams that Nyquist is really good which in return puts a huge target on #14.
The thing is though, that target has been there for a few weeks already and Gus has yet to show any signs of slowing down. While his 10-game point streak was snapped on Friday against Buffalo, he did pick up another assist tonight in Montreal and is continuing to find the open scoring lanes out on the ice.
The goose is loose and nobody has figured out how to slow him down yet, let alone be able to catch him.
2. Zetterberg and Datsyuk
Captain Hank and his right hand man Pavel have been the heart and soul of the Detroit Red Wings ever since Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman retired. While injuries may be cruel, we tend to quickly forget about them when players are 100% healthy again.
The Magic Man is slowly making his return back into the lineup by playing limited minutes against the Sabres and Canadiens, even picking up a rebound goal against Montreal by being in the right place at the right time. Zetterberg, on the other hand, is expected to be back up on his skates by next week according to current reports with everyone crossing their fingers for a 1st or 2nd round playoff return for the Swede.
Not only are the Red Wings getting back two of the best playmakers in the NHL, but two superstars that also know how to win in the playoffs. That’s a dangerous combination. The only thing holding the pair back right now is their health. Come playoff time and the enthusiastic atmosphere, I have a strong hunch that the adrenaline rush will mask any pain they might still be in.
Some things can’t be taught, they have to be learned over time. The most dangerous weapon the Red Wings have in their arsenal is their playoff experience. The playoffs aren’t mysterious or overwhelming for a team that has been here 22 straight times before.
Sure, players have come and gone but there is still a core group of guys in Detroit that know how to get the job done in crunch time. Even the fresh young faces are somewhat primed for the big stage after their Calder Cup championship run a year ago.
Despite currently being a 7th seed (or 8th seed) when entering the playoffs, that shouldn’t have a major impact on the Wings either. Let’s take a quick flashback to what happened last season. The Wings were the 7th seed in the Western Conference and went on to oust the Anaheim Duck after 7 games in the 1st round. Then in the 2nd round they fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champions Blackhawks after having Chicago down 3 games to 1 before letting the series slip away.
Which brings me to my final point as to why the Red Wings should be considered the dark horse team of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs; they have something to prove. What happened last season has to still haunt them. I mean they were 1 game away from the Western Conference Finals and blew it against their archrivals.
The Red Wings won’t have to look far this postseason to rekindle that rivalry intensity as it’s beginning to look like their 1st round opponent is going to be the Pittsburgh Penguins; a rematch of the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.
Even though the Wings aren’t in the playoffs just yet, if they do get in (which they should) they are going to be that dark horse team nobody is going to want to face.
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