There’s no longer much doubt about whether the Detroit Red Wings will qualify for their 19th consecutive postseason. Instead, the suspense centers around just how high they’ll finish in the Western Conference.
The Red Wings could move into fifth place Thursday night in Detroit if they extend their longest winning streak of the season to seven in the first of three remaining meetings with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After emerging from the Olympic break on the fringe of the playoff picture, the Red Wings responded by going 12-2-1 in March, creating a comfortable cushion ahead of ninth-place Calgary.
Detroit (40-23-13) has surged past Colorado and Los Angeles into sixth place, one point behind Nashville with two games in hand on the Predators, who host St. Louis on Thursday.
Although the Red Wings extended both their home and overall winning streaks to six Tuesday night, their 5-4 victory over Edmonton was not without drama. Detroit squandered a 4-0 lead before Brad Stuart’s(notes) game-winner with 1:07 left.
“It was one of those nights for us,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Obviously we had the game totally in control and when you stop playing a little bit and make some mistakes, suddenly the other team gets going. It’s a real good lesson for us.”
Detroit never even won seven straight last season, when it reached its second consecutive Stanley Cup finals.
The club is 9-0-1 in its last 10, a stretch featuring impressive performances all over the ice. Jimmy Howard(notes) has a 1.76 goals-against average while playing every minute in net, while Henrik Zetterberg(notes), Valtteri Filppula(notes) and Johan Franzen(notes) are each averaging at least a point per game.
Howard, who has started Detroit’s last 23 games, has gone 2-0-1 with a 0.98 GAA against Columbus this season, and the Red Wings will likely be happy to see the Blue Jackets three times in their final six games.
They’re 42-10-5 all-time against Columbus, including a four-game sweep by a combined 18-7 score in the first round of the 2009 playoffs.
The Blue Jackets (32-32-13) won’t be back in the postseason after earning their first-ever berth in 2009, but they’re playing perhaps their best hockey down the stretch.
They are 3-0-1 in their last four and 7-2-2 in their last 11, including a 3-2 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.
“We can tell we are a totally different team now then we were a couple months ago,” said Nash, whose club is 10-5-4 since interim coach Claude Noel replaced Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 3.
“I think Claude plays a different style,” the Blue Jackets captain added. “The young guys have a lot more confidence than they did before.”
The Red Wings have done a good job bottling up Columbus’ leading scorer lately, holding Nash to two goals and two assists in the teams’ last eight meetings, including the playoffs. The Blue Jackets have totaled 10 goals while going 1-7-0 in that stretch.
Columbus goalie Steve Mason(notes) has experienced both extremes against Detroit this season. He allowed a career-high eight goals in a 9-1 loss Nov. 11, then had 34 saves in a 1-0 overtime win over the Red Wings in the most recent meeting Dec. 28.