Wings move closer to playoffs with win in home finale
DETROIT -- When it counts the most, the Red Wings are finally doing everything they've wanted to do.
Now they just need to do it once more, this time on the road.
After a 5-2 victory over the hapless Nashville Predators on Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena, the Wings moved into seventh place in the Western Conference with 54 points ahead of the idle Minnesota Wild.
The Wild host the Edmonton Oilers Friday and visit the Colorado Avalanche Saturday, so they have a game in hand.
The Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Dallas Stars, 3-1, Thursday and are tied with the Wild with 53 points.
The Wings travel to Dallas on Saturday only needing a point to clinch their 22nd straight playoff appearance because they hold the tiebreaker over the Blue Jackets.
"We haven't done anything yet," captain Henrik Zetterberg said before the Blue Jackets had won. "We're not in there still. We got one more game here. Just going to go to Dallas, take care of business."
For the first time all season, the Wings have scored more than three goals in three straight games -- all wins. And it couldn't have come at a more opportune time.
"Usually the easy play is the smartest play right now -- keeping it straight and simple, and throwing it at the net and look for rebounds," said Johan Franzen, who has seven goals in his last seven games. "Maybe in the beginning of the year, we were trying to make more fancy plays on the outside.
"Now when we’re really desperate, we’re starting to play like we should."
Wings coach Mike Babcock said the Wings have battled through injuries and a transition period after the retirement of future Hall of Fame defenseman Nick Lidstrom to get to this point.
"I think we've gotten a lot better as a team," Babcock said. "All you got to do is look back at our first segment -- our penalty killing was 70 percent and our power play for 0-for.
"We just continued to get better as a team. That's what happens when you have young people, especially with no training camp."
Babcock said he saw positive signs from his team, even when the results weren't necessarily there.
"What happened was, you keep getting better so you earn confidence to feel good about yourself," he said. "That's over a long period of time. We were playing real well before we started winning.
"... Our team's not the same. We're the first to admit it. That doesn't mean we're not allowed to grow a new product while they're (the fans are) watching us. They've been fantastic in supporting us, and we're grateful for that."
Another factor in the Wings' recent success is some consistency in the lineup.
Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have found their Euro Twin magic playing together on a line with Justin Abdelkader, who scored his 10th goal of the season Thursday.
Valtteri Filppula, who won an astounding 13 of 16 face-offs Thursday and scored his 100th career goal, has clicked with Franzen and Daniel Cleary.
"We’ve got some good chemistry going, I think, and when (Cleary’s) at the net and the way Fil was taking draws, it really helps us, as well," Franzen said. "It’s a lot easier to play with the puck than to go get it."
Joakim Andersson has looked good centering Gustav Nyquist and Damien Brunner.
And the fourth line of Cory Emmerton, Patrick Eaves and Jordin Tootoo has been working well together. Eaves got the game-winning goal.
"Just contributing feels good," Eaves said. "Our line had a great night (Wednesday) night and then we had another great night (Thursday night), so we're having fun out there."
On defense, newcomer Danny DeKeyser and Jakub Kindl have become a reliable pair to go along with top pair Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson. Brendan Smith and Kyle Quincey seem to have meshed, too, after playing together a bit last season.
If the Wings are able to take what they've done at home to Dallas, then they'll be back in the playoffs.
"So far so good," Kronwall said. "We got one more big one to go. We'll take this for what it is.
"We put ourselves in a good situation. Hopefully, we can take care of business on Saturday."