Detroit — If the NHL season were to end today, the Red Wings would be in the playoffs.
Now, the Wings have 63 games left so the season’s actual end is a long way off. Nobody is getting carried away (well, some on social media are).
But after Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over Nashville, the Wings are in the playoff chase on American Thanksgiving, which in the NHL’s past history, gives them an approximately 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (given the results of past years) when the playoffs actually begin.
Having missed the post-season the last six seasons and usually being pretty far back at this juncture, this is all good news for Wings fans.
“(Former Wings general manager) Ken Holland used to talk about that all the time,” said captain Dylan Larkin, who had a goal Wednesday. “It’s still early. We’ve put ourselves in great position. We’ve gotten some great team wins and we’re right there. I’d like to see it. I’m a big believer when you’re in a playoff spot in Easter (around the start of the playoffs), it means something and that’s what matters.
“We have to be right there, and I said it from day one, just keep us in there and stay right in it and see what happens. We’re finding ways to win right now and when things aren’t going our way, it’s not snowballing. It’s a huge improvement over the past few years.”
There was plenty of good news Wednesday, also, as the Wings (10-5-4) opened a five-game homestand with an impressive win over Nashville (9-9-2).
Goaltender Ville Husso, who starred throughout the game, stopped 26 shots for his third shutout and Larkin and Filip Hronek (power play) had second period goals to ignite the victory. It was Larkin’s ninth goal and Hronek’s fifth, but fourth in the last three games.
Michael Rasmussen added an empty net goal.
But it was largely Husso, who led the way for the Wings.
“This probably was the first goalie complete win, he stole the game,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “He’s been great, solid, and there are games we’ve been real good in front of him and he hasn’t had to do a ton. But tonight, he was the difference in the game. He was the best player on the ice, and if he’s not that good in the second or even the third (periods), we’re probably looking at a different outcome.”
Husso heard the large crowd at Little Caesars Arena chant his name most of the evening, and admitted he felt in a groove.
“The guys played well, blocked shots, especially in the third period, there was not much going on,” Husso said. “It’s just good to see. We still need to get better and everybody knows that, and there are a lot of games ahead of us.
“It’s always nice to have the fans cheering and it’s nice to hear. It gives us a little extra energy for sure.”
A turning point in the game was the Wings killing a 1 minute 37 second Nashville two-man advantage midway in the second period, with the Wings clinging to a 1-0 lead. Husso made superb stops on Ryan Johansen and Roman Josi during the Predators power play, igniting a loud, Thanksgiving Eve crowd.
The Wings were also without their top two defensemen on that penalty kill, as Moritz Seider (tripping and Ben Chiarot (delay of game) were in the box serving penalties.
“Just the momentum of it,” said Lalonde of what the penalty kill gave the Wings. “To be up only 1-0 and to get that momentum of the kill, but that’s credit to Olli (Maatta) and Hronek, and where their game is at. We have out top two defensive defensemen out and those two (Maatta, Hronek) stepped up and that’s a good sign for us.
“Our special teams in the second was a huge part of the game. The special teams bailed us and gave us huge momentum. Our best period was the third, but the first 40 minutes, our special teams and our goalie (were the difference).”
Wings claim Hellberg
The Wings added goaltending depth in the organization Wednesday afternoon claiming Magnus Hellberg off waivers.
Hellberg, 31, played one game for the Wings last season, earning a victory in the final regular season game in New Jersey.
Hellberg signed with Seattle last summer, was waived and claimed by Ottawa, then waived by the Senators only to be claimed by Seattle.
Now, the Wings have claimed Hellberg after the Kraken waived Hellberg.
Hellberg has played one game this season, stopping 29 shots for Ottawa in a 4-2 victory over Dallas, October 24.
Lalonde said after Wednesday’s victory, getting Hellberg was a bit of insurance in case anything goes wrong health wise to either Husso or Alex Nedeljkovic.
“We would like another option if something goes wrong with our top two guys,” Lalonde said. “He gives us another option.”