Why Detroit Red Wings say final game in another season without postseason matters

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings have a carpe diem and carpe Devils approach to the final game of the season.

While playing on the road against a nonplayoff opponent isn’t much to ignite excitement, Friday’s finale at the New Jersey Devils isn’t without appeal. If the Wings win, it would put them at .500 over the last three weeks of the regular season, same as they were in mid-February, before enduring a rough stretch.

“I’ve talked with our group about this lots and we have a leadership that have talked amongst them,” coach Jeff Blashill said Thursday. “Every game in the NHL is special and every game matters. That’s why they celebrate so extensively when you get to 1,000 games as a player, because it doesn’t get achieved much.

“Nobody knows what tomorrow brings — we’ve all seen that over the course of the last three years. Tomorrow can look really different from one day to the next. We’ve had to go through a pandemic, with a season shut down, so I don’t think you ever take a day for granted in life and I certainly don’t think you take an NHL game for granted.”

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Blashill said he hasn’t been thinking about whether it’ll be his last game coaching the Wings, as general manager Steve Yzerman may decide not to pick up the option on Blashill’s contract.

“I haven’t thought about it for a second,” Blashill said. “I’m focused on trying to win a game. That’s what my total focus is.”

Defenseman Marc Staal is a good example of why every game should be appreciated: He played in his 1,000th game March 12, but his season was cut short when had to placed in pandemic protocol Tuesday. Jakub Vrana missed the first 56 games of the season, while Dylan Larkin, Robby Fabbri, Filip Zadina and Adam Erne have had their seasons cut short, for a variety of injury or illness.

The Wings (31-40-10) just won Sunday at New Jersey, then went into Toronto and, considering how undermanned they were against one of the best teams in the NHL, acquitted themselves well. They’ve gone 5-6-1 since April 5, when they seemed to recover from a stretch that extinguished the playoff hopes fanned by promise shown during the first half. The Wings were 22-21-6 on Feb. 13, but then won just four of their next 20 games. As the Wings fell in the standings, so did their confidence.

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“One of the things we were able to do is stay in the playoff race way longer than we have the last few years,” Blashill said. “When we kind of fell out of it, I thought that sucked the life out of us for a little bit, it took us a little while to recover.

“We talked about it. We talked about catching Boston and tried to push us to get to that next level, and unfortunately, we weren’t able to get there. But we showed signs of pushing and I don’t think we were ever totally healthy, because of the Vrana injury. But when we were a fairly complete team, we could be a real good hockey team.”

There are personal accomplishments that could be reached Friday: Tyler Bertuzzi needs one goal to get to 30; Moritz Seider needs one point to become the first Wings defenseman since Nicklas Lidstrom in 2010-11 to reach 50 points. 

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Only one game stands between the Wings and another long offseason. Seider will play in next month’s World Championship, where he could go up against teammates including Lucas Raymond and Alex Nedeljkovic, but Friday will mark the last time the Wings gather as a team for the season.

“You don’t know how many years you have in this league, how many chances you get to play games,” veteran Sam Gagner said. “That’s the way you have to look at it. You have to be excited about every chance you get to play in this league.”

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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