Red Wings enter must-win mode with five game left

PUSH FOR THE PLAYOFFS: Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg (40) battles the Buffalo Sabres’ Jack Eichel for the puck on Monday. (Detroit Free Press photo)

PUSH FOR THE PLAYOFFS: Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg (40) battles the Buffalo Sabres’ Jack Eichel for the puck on Monday. (Detroit Free Press photo)

DETROIT — There’s no course to take but to control their own fate.

The Detroit Red Wings have five games remaining to make the playoffs, five games left to not be the ones under whose watch a historic streak breaks, five games left to prove they are as capable as they say they are. From having 75 points at the end of February to having added just a dozen points in March, April is either going to be cruel or gratifying.

“We are either going to make it or not, and we control it,” forward Justin Abdelkader said Thursday. “At the end of the regular season, there is no one to blame but ourselves, for either getting in or not getting in.”

The Wings, coach Jeff Blashill said, “have great respect” for the fact the organization has not missed the playoffs since 1990, “but our focus all year has been to win the Stanley Cup.”

Getting that chance now hinges on how well the Wings play over the next nine days. They’ve made it more difficult on themselves with a turbulent March that saw opponents score too easily and the Wings respond too poorly.

“Lately, we haven’t been able to put together a winning streak, and it’s a lot of different factors, but especially we’ve been letting in too many goals,” forward Gustav Nyquist said. “We’re pretty much giving away goals every game. We can’t do that down the stretch.

“We still believe we have the pieces to make it in here, for sure. We still believe we are a good team, and I think we have shown that throughout the year at different times, that we can play at a very high level.”

It’s performances such as March 12 against the New York Rangers and March 19 at the Florida Panthers that must come to the forefront the last five games. After hosting the Minnesota Wild on Friday night, the Wings play at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, then host the Philadelphia Flyers next Wednesday before finishing up with games at the Boston Bruins and the Rangers.

The Wings likely won’t advance without winning at least four more times. Their best chance is to leapfrog the Bruins, who have just one point more than the Wings and hold third place in the Atlantic Division, a guaranteed playoff spot. The Flyers are two points ahead of Detroit in the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, but Philadelphia has a game in hand because of a snowstorm makeup date with the Islanders on April 10, the day after the regular season was supposed to end.

Players know this. Abdelkader said, “I know Boston has St. Louis and Chicago, not sure who else besides us.” (It’s Carolina and Ottawa).

The Wings still lament Tuesday’s loss at the Montreal Canadiens, where they blew a third-period lead even as they knew Boston had lost.

“We don’t have any chances left, basically,” Nyquist said. “That was a big opportunity for us with Boston losing to New Jersey and we were up, 3-2, and we won’t get too many of those chances any more. So we’ve got to make sure we win.”

A month ago, Blashill told his players before the game in Dallas, which fell on the NHL trade deadline, that they were the group he wanted. He doubled down on that Thursday, saying: “It’s still the group I want. I wouldn’t switch anything for that. This is a group I think is very capable.”

They are also a group, however, that almost to a man hasn’t played up to a capability lately. Blashill said he never talks to players about “actual points, goals and assists. I talk about playing. I understand that it’s frustrating sometimes when the points don’t follow, but the most important thing is to focus on good play. And if you play good over a long period of time, results always follow. It just might take longer than all of us want.”

If those results don’t show up now, the Wings have made a very long offseason their fate.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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