Jets-Red Wings Preview
A postseason berth has been a regular springtime occurrence for the Detroit Red Wings.
Their string of 24 consecutive playoff trips, however, is in jeopardy as the proud franchise is stumbling down the stretch.
Clinging to the Eastern Conference's second wild card, the Red Wings look to avoid a fourth straight regulation loss for the first time in four years Thursday night against the last-place Winnipeg Jets at Joe Louis Arena.
With losses in seven of 10 games, Detroit's lead for the final playoff spot has dwindled to two points over a Philadelphia team which is 7-2-1 in its last 10. Carolina has also pulled within four, having earned five points in its last three games.
"We have to be playing with more urgency," captain Henrik Zetterberg said after Tuesday's 5-3 loss to Columbus. "We all know what's at stake here and it's getting closer and closer. We've got some games left. We know what we've got to do and we just got to do it."
The Red Wings (32-23-11), however, failed to take advantage of a prime opportunity against the Metropolitan Division's worst team.
Outshot by the Blue Jackets 16-4 in the first period, Detroit trailed 4-1 in the third before a frantic rally featuring goals from Tomas Tatar and Andreas Athanasiou 46 seconds apart with Jimmy Howard off ice fell short.
''I was surprised because I know we have winners in our room and generally our guys recognize the urgency of the moment and our guys didn't recognize the urgency of the moment,'' coach Jeff Blashill said. ''We better pick it up here in a hurry.''
Blashill needs better play from his goaltenders, with Howard going 1-6-4 with a 3.36 goals-against average in 14 games since Dec. 8, and Petr Mrazek owning a 3.81 GAA in his last seven. Mrazek was pulled less than seven minutes into his last start Sunday after allowing two goals on five shots at Chicago.
The goaltenders aren't being helped by a penalty-killing unit that has allowed six power-play goals on 11 chances during the skid. The Red Wings, who haven't lost in regulation in four straight games since Oct. 22-29, 2011, and haven't missed the playoffs since 1990, allowed two 5-on-3 goals to Columbus.
"It's never easy in the NHL to be a playoff team, and right now we are there and we have to play better," Tatar said. "We know what we have to do. We're doing it every year, so like I said, we have lots of experience, we just have to do it."
The good news for Detroit is the Jets are one of the league's worst power play teams, converting 15.6 percent of opportunities, and are 2 for 25 with the man advantage in the last eight games. Not surprisingly, Winnipeg (27-34-5) is having some trouble scoring, totaling two goals or less four times in losing five of six.
However, the Jets did beat Detroit 4-1 on Dec. 29 for a fourth win in five meetings.
Howard was pulled after allowing four goals on 14 shots while Jacob Trouba scored twice and Drew Stafford had two assists.
Stafford snapped a 12-game goal drought and Trouba scored in Tuesday's 4-2 loss to Nashville as the Jets completed a five-game homestand with one win.
In an effort to spark the sputtering power play, coach Paul Maurice inserted 22-year-old Scott Kosmachuk to the man-advantage unit in his first NHL game and came away encouraged.
"He moved well on the ice," Maurice said. "He moved quicker than I've seen him move in his game so that was good."