Why Detroit Red Wings’ sprint to end of season should help despite faded playoff hopes

Detroit Free Press

The opportunities to prove they’re committed to showing growth will be coming fast and furious for the Detroit Red Wings, who kick off the final four weeks of the regular season with four games in six days.

The Wings have 14 games left, starting Monday against the Florida Panthers at Little Caesars Arena. It’s been a rough go since a brief flirtation with being above the playoff-picture waterline, with the Wings (30-29-9) winning just twice in 11 games since that feel-good moment in late February. But if the Wings want to feel like they accomplished something when the finale rolls around on April 13, they can’t allow their performances to deteriorate.

“We can learn that the position we’re in, we can’t just go out there and not give it our all, because we have fans coming to the rink and good crowds, good energy in the building,” Dylan Larkin said. “We have to show up, we have to build on that. We have to play hard and finish this thing out the right way.”

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The Wings had Sunday off, a chance to rest up before suiting up 14 times in 25 days. Were they challenging for a playoff spot (they’re not eliminated, but they they’re nine points out of a wild-card spot with five teams ahead of them) that would be daunting, but as it stands, the focus is on performances. Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche was marked by poor special teams and getting caught flat-footed, again, when Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar exerted their superiority.

The Avs are the defending Cup champions, and the Wings were in the game until the third period. The only real blemishes since the Feb. 23 victory that put them in the playoff picture have been those two ugly losses at the Ottawa Senators, 6-2 one night, 6-1 the next. The other games have been close, and it was a source of encouragement that they outplayed the Boston Bruins in five of six periods spanning March 11-12.

“We played Boston great,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “Our performance in Nashville, we gave up five chances. It could be a worry going forward, when you are doing some quality things and not getting results, it can be deflating. It might be the reality of where we are, but it will be our job, as a group, not to let up.”

Not letting the fading playoff picture discolor this past month may be a challenge, but nothing would be more deflating than not taking every last game as an opportunity to build for next season.

“We have to keep fighting and keep playing to make it meaningful,” Larkin said. “It’s way more fun to win and the fans, whatever they have to say for the future, winning is more fun.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. 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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