Red Wings flirting with something they haven’t touched in 7 years -- playoffs

Since returning from All-Star break Detroit has been a different team

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - FEBRUARY 23: Filip Hronek #17 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates his third period goal while playing the New York Rangers at Little Caesars Arena on February 23, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) (Gregory Shamus, 2023 Getty Images)

DETROIT – April 21, 2016, is a date that probably doesn’t hold much weight with sports fans. That is unless you consider yourself Red Wings faithful.

It was the last time the red and white took the ice in an NHL Playoff game, that being against the Lightning in Tampa Bay. Old friends like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were still on the roster at that time. Unfortunately for the latter, it was a bitter farewell as Detroit was disposed of in five games in the first round.

Now, nearly seven years later, the Red Wings prepare for a matchup with that same Lightning team this weekend. Although this time, they have the postseason in their sights once again.

For the first time in a long time, playing beyond their regularly scheduled 82 games is a real possibility, as they currently sit in the second and final Wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Wins in seven of the last eight games have helped mightily in getting them there, and in some cases, the Red Wings have as much as four games in hand over other teams also in the hunt with them.

Ever since returning from the All-Star break, first-year head coach Derek Lalonde has his team competing on defense and scoring more goals than usual. In the nine outings since that bye week, the Red Wings have gone 7-2-0 with their two losses turning out to be respectable. One coming against the league’s best Power Play in an Edmonton Oilers team they would end up defeating in a rematch eight days later, and the other at a surging Seattle Kraken team that was their third game in four days.

The victories, on the other hand, have been impressive. A five-game road trip spanning eight days yielded four regulation wins, with three of them featuring five or more goals scored. Playing the first game back at home is almost as difficult as the road swing itself, but the Red Wings cleared that hurdle as well, defeating the New York Rangers 4-1 on Thursday night.

Scoring (believe it or not) has been the key to success during this latest stretch. In their 48 games played before the All-Star break, the Red Wings had a goal differential of -15. Since then, that mark is now +13, with an average of 3.7 goals being scored per game.

Special teams have made great strides for Detroit as well. Overall, for the season, the Red Wings’ power play and penalty kill rank near the middle of the pack, but since that presumably beneficial All-Star break, those units have been much improved. More than a quarter of the time they have lit the lamp has been with the man advantage. And when down a man, the penalty kill has warded off twenty-two of opponents’ twenty-six power play opportunities.

That All-Star weekend seems like yesterday when the spotlight was on captain Dylan Larkin. The 26-year-old was the Red Wings’ lone representative at the event and made headlines when, in an interview with ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, declared his desire to remain in Detroit. Larkin then followed that up by scoring a hat trick while leading the Atlantic division to a championship crown.

He even carried that success over into games that mattered a little more, rattling off points in eight of nine games since the return to play. Larkin’s performance as of late is arguably worthy of the rumored value he wants on his next contract, but if you were to ask him, his focus is set on winning as much as possible in these final 25 games.

Larkin was just a 19-year-old rookie when the Red Wings were eliminated from the 2016 playoffs. In fact, he is the only member of that roster that still wears the red and white today. So, wouldn’t that make this team inexperienced when it comes to playing meaningful hockey?

Well, General Manager Steve Yzerman addressed that issue before the year even started. Signing Andrew Copp, Ben Chiarot, David Perron, and Dominik Kubalik, has not only bolstered the Red Wings’ attack on the ice, but given them solid leadership in the dressing room.

With 233 combined playoff game appearances between the four of them, tenure isn’t necessarily an issue for this team. “They care a ton but they’ve also come from some winning situations,” said Derek Lalonde on Friday. “They see what winning looks like, they see what winning takes . . . and we have a very healthy room right now because of it.”

It’s okay to start getting excited about the Red Wings playing in the postseason again. Dust off the old jersey you have in the back of your closet and tune in to a game, because this team is in the thick of it. Little Caesars Arena is longing for playoff action and the Red Wings might just provide it.

More on the Detroit Red Wings here.

About the Author:

Alex has been producing sports content at WDIV since May 2022. Working on programs such as Sports Final Editions on Sundays as well as Pregame Specials are what he enjoys the most. Alex has been a Michigan State University fan since he was in the 2nd grade and graduated from the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences in the Spring of 2021.