Detroit Red Wings are doing all the little things well, making this playoff push for real

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings are playing their best hockey of the season. They won again Thursday night at Little Caesars Arena, blitzing the New York Rangers, 4-1.

The Wings have won seven of eight and would be in the … ah, I’m not gonna say it. Let’s let Andrew Copp say it. He earned it with his one-goal, three-point night.

“We’re over the cutline right now,” said the Wings’ center. “That’s what (the win) means to us.”

I’m not sure even Steve Yzerman saw this coming, this playoff push; the Wings were 5-7-1 in January and down near the bottom of the standings.

But if the Wings keep coming, he’ll have to adjust his plans. Shoot, he probably already has.

It would be hard to trade Tyler Bertuzzi now before the March 3 NHL trade deadline. He’s cooking alongside Dylan Larkin. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

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Either way, the chemistry between the team’s best two offensive players is undeniable. All the youngsters around these two (relative) youngsters deserve every chance to see where the last 25 games lead.

Even if Yzerman figured next year would be the true playoff push, no one wants to get in the way of alchemy, of the magic when a young team starts to figure out who they are and turn that identity into wins.

“You go on a run like this and you’re finding ways to win every night,” said Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde.

Which is another way of saying that his team isn’t dominating as much as its grinding, and believing and, to use his word, “maturing.” Oh, and getting great goaltending.

Ville Husso was great in the moments his team struggled. Though he would never say that. He’d say he got lucky, like when he slid his left foot to the post and thwarted a puck that was inches away from the net.

I wouldn’t say that, though. Sure, goalies need luck. But, as Husso noted, he saw where the pass was headed and anticipated how the shot would unfold, and from where. And he saw the play before it happened because he is seeing more clearly how his own team plays in front of him.

Husso is getting comfortable.

How?

“It just happens,” he said. “(I’m reading) the players, how they move. At some point, hopefully, you find a way how they play.”

He has, and it’s opened up the ice before him, and allowed him to see the angles and get into the best position possible.

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You might say the same of the offense, that each line is seeing what might come next, that any given shift doesn’t have to produce a goal, that there will be another turn.

Once a player embraces that, they take fewer chances, which means fewer turnovers, and leads to more selfless play.

“Sacrifice,” Copp called it.

Take Copp’s goal, which gave the Wings a 1-0 lead in the first period. He took a pass from Michael Rasmussen, who got the puck from David Perron, who’d gotten the puck from Rasmussen just over the blue line.

Rasmussen and Perron’s nifty give-and-go up the right side pulled the Rangers toward them and left room for Copp to slip in and score.

Or, take Filip Zadina’s goal, a speed-rush wrist shot that broke a 1-1 tie in the second period. It doesn’t happen if Dylan Larkin hadn’t set up a blockade at the blue line near the wall and swiped the puck from the Rangers and then guided the puck into the ice just ahead of Zadina.

The one-time lottery pick, who missed three months with a leg injury and is eager to show Lalonde he can play the kind of heady, puck-smart hockey he wants, is learning to tamp down his zest to attack.

“He wants to build his game,” said Lalonde.

That’s evident in so many spots on the roster, from West Coast to the East Coast and back home, from period to period, from shift to shift.

The Wings aren’t likely to keep winning seven of every eight, or even nine of every 12, as they have also done. Hot streaks eventually cool off.

Yet they are finding their recipe, as Copp said, taking the safe play instead of the risky one. That’s a kind of sacrifice, too.

The next step is learning to manage games like Thursday’s better from the puck drop. Lalonde thought his team was tight and even nervous, a product of the buzz beginning to build. The whiplash after traveling across the country and back didn’t help.

“These are such hard games to play after a trip like that,” said Lalonde.

And as each game gets the Wings closer to a playoff, the games will get even harder.

It’s been a while since this organization has felt that. Whether Yzerman and Lalonde thought such a chase would be here this year is beside the point. A dismal January unexpectedly turned into a sunny February, and that should set up some fun for March.

“I want the guys to be comfortable in these type of (games),” said Lalonde. “The guys want it so badly.”

They showed both against one of the league’s best teams Thursday night.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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