The Detroit Red Wings kept pushing, kept trying to control what they could control.
They rallied from two-goal deficits twice Thursday to make a game of it before the home crowd before succumbing, 7-6, in a shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
With the Florida Panthers beating the Ottawa Senators and the New York Islanders beating the Tampa Bay Lightning soon after the Wings’ loss, the mathematics on the Wings’ elimination from playoff contention for a seventh straight year was official.
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The Wings (35-33-10) have two more games left at Little Caesars Arena before going on the road for the last two games of this season.
There was a great deal of excitement in the locker room when, on Feb. 23, the Wings were inside the playoff picture after having won seven of eight games. But then they lost half a dozen players to injuries and the trade deadline, and won three of the next 15 games, dousing hopes of advancing for the first time since 2016.
Austin Czarnik and Dylan Larkin scored in the first period, and Alex Chiasson netted his fifth power play goal in 16 games in the second period. The Sabres started Devon Levi, a 21-year-old playing in his third career game. Ville Husso, making his 53rd start, didn’t have his best outing; he gave up a goal to Jordan Greenway early in the third period when the puck went glove-side on a midrange shot. Dylan Cozens scored his second of the night off a rush inside a minute later.
Jonatan Berggren scored midway through the third period and David Perron one-timed a shot to even the game with a minute to go in regulation.
The first period didn’t lack for excitement, beginning with Alex Tuch getting too fancy on a penalty shot and missing the net. Tage Thompson (what a gem at No. 26 overall in the 2016 draft) scored his 45th goal of the season 35 seconds after Tuch’s mishap, but Czarnik made it 1-1 midway through the period. Larkin picked up his 32nd goal when he redirected Lucas Raymond’s shot during a power play to make it 2-1, but Henri Jokuharju pulled the Sabres even at 17:10. A melee erupted after that goal, leading to Jake Walman serving a double-minor for roughing. Cozens converted during the first segment of that Buffalo power play, in the last minute of the period.
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Simon Edvinsson, the Wings’ pick at No. 6 overall in 2021, scored for the second time in seven games. It was a good lesson in why shooting the puck is always a good idea: Edvinsson’s shot bounced in off a Sabres player, pulling the Wings even at 4-4. Since it doesn’t make sense for the Wings to burn the first year of Edvinsson’s entry-level contract, Edvinsson can only appear in two of their final four games. He has made it clear, though, that he is ready to be a full-timer when next season begins. Edvinsson, 6 feet 6 and 209 pounds, figures to be a force on the blue line; he already has killed penalties and been used in key situation.
If 2016 seems like a long time ago, consider the Sabres are trying make the postseason for the first time since 2011. They have had considerable more luck in the draft lottery than the Wings, selecting first in 2018 and again in 2021. Both times, there were franchise cornerstone defensemen available, first in Rasmus Dahlin and then in ex-Wolverine Owen Power (he assisted on three by early in the second period). Comparatively, the Wings haven’t picked higher than fourth during their current playoff drought, and in the other five drafts between 2017-2022, the Wings have picked in the Nos. 6-9 range.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.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.