Detroit Red Wings losing ground in NHL playoff chase. The road ahead doesn’t get easier

Detroit Free Press

After a leisurely February, the Detroit Red Wings get what they crave as March beckons: The rhythm of a regular schedule.

The Wings (23-24-6) continue a stretch of facing elite teams Tuesday when they host the Carolina Hurricanes. The Wings went 3-4 in February, capping the month with a 10-7 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs that featured an eight-goal third period. Sunday was a scheduled day off, but after that scramble, it was needed.

“We haven’t had a lot of games lately to get into a rhythm,”  defenseman Marc Staal said after Saturday’s game at Little Caesars Arena. “We just need to exhale and come back to work Monday.”

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The Wings had worked their way within six points of a wild-card spot, but as teams have made up games in hand, the Wings now sit 13 points behind Washington. Making the playoffs was unlikely all along, but it was an encouraging sign for the rebuild that the Wings were in the conversation. Then came a stretch vs. the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers, and then the Colorado Avalanche and Leafs, during which the Wings have gone 1-3. This week offers the Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, all teams inside the playoff picture.

“These games are all a litmus test for us and we better understand how much more we’ve got to compete and work and sacrifice,” coach Jeff Blashill said.

The Wings got back into the Toronto game when they finally started competing, but both the Leafs and the Avalanche scored in the opening minutes, making for hard nights. Neither Alex Nedeljkovic nor Thomas Greiss has played their best the past two games, with Saturday’s goalfest an especially forgettable outing for both.

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“I don’t want to compare the two games,” Blashill said. “Last game, we gave up 12 chances. It was a bad first shift. This is a different animal.

“We have a hell of a team coming in here on Tuesday, we better figure it out fast.”

Blashill described the Wings whittling a five-goal deficit to one as “fool’s gold,” saying that pulling within 7-6 and 8-7 should not “get away from the focus that we have to be way better.” Neither he nor Staal could explain how the Wings were so inert to start a home game against an Original Six opponent, or why there hasn’t been a better overall effort given where the Wings are in the standings.

“We just have to come out ready to play next game and be ready from the start,” Staal said.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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