Detroit Red Wings eager to keep playoff talk alive: ‘Meaningless games are not fun’

Detroit Free Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Andrew Copp put it succinctly Tuesday after the Detroit Red Wings let two points slip away and their goal of making the playoffs dimmed even further.

“You play meaningless games down the stretch, that is not the NHL, that is not fun,” Copp said. “So we have to find a way to make these meaningful towards the end.”

The Wings (30-28-9) next play Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche, the defending Stanley Cup champions who are banged up and trying to secure a foothold in the Western Conference playoffs. To the Wings’ aggravation, they squandered an opportunity to edge closer to a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, losing 2-1 at Bridgestone Arena to the Nashville Predators on the same night two teams ahead of the Wings — the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals — also lost.

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The Wings have 15 games left, and seven points and five teams stand between them and a wild-card spot. It’s been three weeks since they rode a 7-1 stretch into wild card position; since then, they lost six in a row, amidst the turmoil of seeing four teammates traded at the deadline, then went 2-2 over the past week. To their coach, Derek Lalonde, what matters is that the Wings don’t give up easy offense, that they defend well and build good habits.

“I’m just happy we are playing the right way,” Lalonde said. “That stretch around the deadline where we didn’t play well, probably felt sorry for ourselves a little bit. But we’ve got our group now, and we’ve got some guys slotted correctly, we have some rhythm with our group. I just want to play and the right way, and for the most part, over these last four games, we have. It’s a little frustrating (Tuesday) that we I felt we deserved a better outcome, at least a point out of this game.”

Lalonde has, from the start of the season, preached an emphasis on performance over outcome. And given they lost a top-line winger in Tyler Bertuzzi and a top-four defenseman in Filip Hronek at the trade deadline, the Wings’ overall response has been pretty good.

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“They’ve shown that with their compete and their play,” Lalonde said. “Now, if that tails off, then we have a different story and maybe a different approach. But there has been very little tail-off from our group. It’s been good, really good.”

Dylan Larkin has mentioned multiple times how players talk about the playoffs among themselves. He hasn’t been a part of the NHL’s “second season” since 2016, his rookie year, but the players general manager Steve Yzerman brought in last summer — Copp, Ben Chiarot, Ville Husso, Olli Määttä and David Perron — are used to playing past the regular-season finish line.

“I mean, it’s a goal you have,” Copp said. “DP has played in the playoffs probably 14 years out of how many? Benny has played in the finals, has gone to the playoffs last five, six years. Same with myself. Olli, same thing. It’s a goal every year.

“This is very tough. This is a game we had to win.”

Chiarot echoed the sentiment, saying, “Any loss is frustrating, especially one at this time of year. We know if we can string a couple games together here, we’re right there. That’s our focus here for the next few weeks.”

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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