Somehow, someway, the Red Wings will finish the regular season next weekend (fingers crossed), navigating through a campaign amid a pandemic.
Before it began, the NHL shortened the season to 56 games and formatted a division-only schedule. There have been hiccups along the way, but the NHL will head into its playoffs confident it will conclude and award a Stanley Cup.
Who gets the credit for the Wings, and the rest of the league, to motor through?
“There’s been a lot of people behind the scenes that have really had to do a real good job for us to be able to play,” said veteran forward Sam Gagner, who has been in the NHL since 2007 but agrees this season has been unique.
Be it a team’s medical or training staff monitoring daily testing or treating injuries in a condensed, rigorous schedule, or equipment people or support staff, helping an NHL team get through this schedule has been a team effort.
“Looking back on it this year has been different than any other year,” Gagner said. “I’ve always felt that every year kind of brings its different challenges no matter how you prepare, but this year has been definitely been special in that regard. It’ll be a year we’ll remember for a long time.”
With the pandemic still causing much disruption on jobs and daily life in society, hockey players feel “fortunate,” said Gagner, that they’re able to complete a season.
“As players, we feel we’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to do what we love to do,” Gagner said. “There’s a lot of situations out there where people have had to sacrifice what they love to do and we’re still able to do it, obviously under different circumstances. Guys have had to really adhere to protocols and things like that, and it’s made it stressful at times.
“But at the end of the day, we’re playing hockey and we’ve enjoyed that part of it.”
Tough road ahead
The Wings’ next three games are against Carolina and Tampa, two of the top teams in the division.
These will be important games for the Hurricanes and Lightning, who are battling for seeding and home ice advantage.
It should be a good, stiff test for a young Wings roster.
“(Tuesday’s) game (in Columbus) ended up being a good hockey game, but it started real loose, like two teams that were out of the playoffs. We can’t play loose hockey like that heading into Carolina or Tampa,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Just with the firepower both of those teams have, and that’s not disrespectful to Columbus, we’re kind of both in the same boat in missing the playoffs.
“But we better tighten up as we head into Carolina.”
The Wings are 2-9 in games decided by overtime or shootout this season, following Tuesday’s 1-0 shootout loss in Columbus.
Generally speaking, the extra sessions are a bit of a crapshoot, with a shred of good fortune as important for a team as anything.
It seems every season there is minor criticism of the entire overtime process, but nobody has a better way of breaking the tie and deciding a winning team quickly and efficiently.
“I don’t know the answer,” Blashill said of going away from the shootout, specifically. “I don’t want a tie, for sure. Overtime isn’t necessarily real hockey, either. It’s 3-on-3 and you never get to 3-on-3 in regular hockey. Certainly nobody has the appetite to keep playing 5-on-5 forever in the regular season.
“I don’t know if there’s an easy solution. Ultimately everybody knows the rules at the beginning of the year and you have to play by them. If we don’t like our record in overtime and shootout, then win the game in regulation time.”
Red Wings at Hurricanes
►Faceoff: 7 p.m. Thursday, PNC Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina
►Outlook: The Red Wings (17-25-9) and Carolina (32-10-7) face each other for the final time this season. … Interestingly, the Wings lead the season series against the division leaders 4-3-0.