NHL

Wings surge into playoffs for 19th straight year

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DETROIT (AP)

Simply making the playoffs looked like it might be tough at times this season for the Detroit Red Wings.

Now, the two-time defending Western Conference champions are playing so well anything seems possible.

Detroit coach Mike Babcock likes his team's chances.

``I felt like we were going to win every year we've been in the playoffs,'' Babcock said Monday. ``And, we have lots of years.''

Detroit made the postseason for the 19th straight time, but for only the first time since the streak started the Red Wings will open on the road. The fourth-seeded Phoenix Coyotes host No. 5 seed Detroit on Tuesday night.

The Red Wings recalled forwards Justin Abdelkader and Brad May from its AHL team in Grand Rapids, but Babcock says neither player will be in the Game 1 lineup. Babcock doesn't want to juggle his lineup because it has been tough to beat.

The Red Wings went an NHL-best 16-3-2 after the Vancouver Olympics to guarantee they would extend the longest postseason streak in sports for owner Mike Ilitch and general manager Ken Holland.

``It's an unbelievable run,'' Babcock said. ``The Ilitches have done a great job. Since Kenny Holland has taken over, there has been 10 times in a row here we've had over 100 points. There's no question we've been excellent for a long period of time.

``But I'm about this year and doing something now. We're in and we have an opportunity.''

Detroit was a win away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions last season, but lost on home ice to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a championship rematch.

The Red Wings hoisted the Cup four times between 1997-2008 and few thought they would have a chance to compete for another title after an offseason took away players who combined to score 88 goals.

And when key forwards Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula were among the first Red Wings to get banged up, senior vice president Jim Devellano sounded pessimistic.

``We're going to have to fight just to make the playoffs and it's going to be a grind,'' Devellano said in November. ``To get home-ice advantage would be a miracle. A miracle.''

Detroit isn't among the top four teams in the Western Conference playoffs - ending a streak that lasted 17 postseasons - and didn't win its division for the first time since 2000.

Defenseman Brad Stuart, who scored the game-winning goal Sunday to prevent Chicago from earning the top seed in the West, said the team's momentum doesn't necessarily carry over into the playoffs.

``Obviously, it's good for us to be going into the playoffs feeling good,'' Stuart said. ``But once we get there, it's going to be a whole different ballgame. It's not going to be anything like we just finished. It's going to be a lot tougher and we've got to get ready or the season can end real quick.''

Detroit closed the regular season with a 13-1-2 streak. Babcock insisted he never worried about being relegated to watching the playoffs.

``You wondered if we were ever going to stop getting injured and then you wondered if we ran out of time,'' Babcock said. ``I thought we would be battling on Sunday against Chicago to get in the playoffs. I never realized we would be battling to try to finish fifth.

``Obviously, we had a real good run.''

Tagged: Red Wings, Brad Stuart

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