Red Wings captain leads team to clinch

The Red Wings weren’t going to leave something as important as a 22-season playoff streak to someone else to decide.

They needed just one point to make the playoffs and took matters into their own hands — with an exclamation point, shutting out the Stars in Dallas, 3-0.

The victory gave the Wings their first four-game winning streak of the season and extended their season-best streak of scoring three or more goals to four games.

That meant that the Wings clinched seventh place in the Western Conference and will travel to Anaheim to face the Ducks for the sixth time in the postseason.

“I think we should feel real good,” Wings coach Mike Babcock told FOX Sports Detroit’s Trevor Thompson on the postgame show. “It’s been a different year for us.

“If you would have told me at the start of the year we wouldn’t have the guys we had injury-wise, without Helmer (Darren Helm), without Bert (Todd Bertuzzi) and without Sammy (Mikael Samuelsson), that we’d make the playoffs, I don’t believe we could have done that.”

The Wings and Ducks also matched up during the playoffs in 1997, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2009.

The Wings could have earned a playoff berth if the Columbus Blue Jackets had lost at home to the Nashville Predators, but the Blue Jackets overcame a 1-0 deficit for a 3-1 victory.

Another way the Wings could have made the playoffs without winning is if the Minnesota Wild lost in Colorado, but the Wild won, 3-1.

First-year captain Henrik Zetterberg wasn’t about to let another team take care of business for the Wings, and neither was his Euro Twin, Pavel Datsyuk.

Zetterberg scored the all-important first goal of the game, at 18:17 of the first period. With a Stars defenseman draped on him and falling to the ice, Zetterberg managed to shove the puck toward the net. It went off Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski’s skate and into the net.

Just 1:57 into the third period, Datsyuk sprang Zetterberg on a shorthanded breakaway and Zetterberg did not miss, giving the Wings a 2-0 lead.

Both Datsyuk and Zetterberg assisted on the third goal, by Jonathan Ericsson.

“They’ve led us, especially this last handful of games, but even all year,” Justin Abdelkader told Thompson. “They’ve been tremendous.

“Tonight’s just another example of why they’re two of the best players in the world. They put the team on their back and helped us get a victory.”

Babcock always says your best players have to play the best, and that’s what Zetterberg and Datsyuk did.

“Those guys set the example for our team and don’t let us off the hook,” Babcock said.

When the season started, the Wings were near the bottom in both power play and penalty kill. They finished the season 15th on the power play and 12th on the penalty kill.

“I think we got better as the year went on,” Zetterberg told Thompson. “I think one thing we did was, we worked hard.

“I think we had a lot of new faces, guys that hadn’t really played in situations, and we got better as the year went on. I think special teams got better the last two weeks, and that helps winning games.”

It’s kind of fitting that the Wings clinched their playoff spot on the last day of the season, on the eve of just-retired defenseman Nick Lidstrom’s 43rd birthday. They couldn’t let the streak end in Zetterberg’s first year of being captain.

“No one wanted to be part of not making the playoffs,” Zetterberg said. “A lot of guys have been here for a long time and we just want to give it another run here.”

The Wings took the season series from the Ducks, 2-1, winning twice in Anaheim and losing a game at the Joe.

“I’m excited about it,” Babcock said. “Number one, I love Anaheim. I enjoyed my time there.

“We’ve had lots of fun playing against them over the years. This should be no different.”

Just as the Wings making the playoffs is no different than it’s been the last 22 seasons.