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Bob Wojnowski: With playoff hopes lit, Red Wings need to keep up

Bob Wojnowski, The Detroit News on

Published in Hockey

DETROIT — Derek Lalonde warned it’d get tougher. In fact, I think his actual quote when the Red Wings started rolling was, “It’s going to get tougher and tougher and tougher.”

And tougher still.

If the Wings weren’t exactly sure what they signed up for, it was on display at Little Caesars Arena the past two games. In the latest playoff-like tussle, the Wings got smothered by top seed Florida, 4-0 on Saturday, outmuscled and outsmarted. They struggled to check their emotions as the physical Panthers pushed them to frustration.

The trade deadline is Friday and there’s no cause for panic, with the Wings’ record bolstered by a six-game winning streak before back-to-back losses. At 72 points, they’re six clear of the playoff cut line and six behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division. Hockey-reference.com still pegs their playoff chances at 85%.

But now comes a four-game road trip, starting with powerful Colorado on Wednesday night, and another sign of the Wings’ new reality — the goal posts have moved. Hey, Lions fans moved their goal posts when it was apparent they were worthy. Now it’s the Wings’ turn to stop just hoping for the playoffs, and fully expect it.

You know how you can tell Hockeytown passion and pressure are back? It’s not just the car flags and octopi flying. It’s when fans start shrieking about the officiating and other grievances, large or small. I’m not here to chastise because I know hockey folks can be a protective bunch. But my goodness, when the franchise pulled one of those common — and still annoying — corporate deals and slapped an advertising patch on the jerseys last week, you’d think they’d pulled Gordie Howe’s banner from the rafters and used it as a tablecloth.

 

It didn’t help that the patch was for Priority, a waste-management company, and that the Wings lost their next two games. I know it’s been a while since they were in the postseason, but people need to toughen up again. I get it, everybody likes to have their garbage picked up but nobody wants to advertise it. If it bothers you so much, turn it into a positive. In the playoffs, dirty goals rule, so maybe the Wings can become the garbage-patch kids or something. (I’ll be leaving now.)

Stakes are raised

Before the season, Yzerman bluntly declared it wasn’t “playoffs or bust” to end the Wings’ six-year drought. But he’d already messed up the narrative with a series of shrewd moves, signing or trading for 11 experienced players. Two — Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane— man the top line with Dylan Larkin. The Wings went from shallow to deep in a hurry, easily filling four good lines, with 12 players boasting double-digit goal totals.

There’s no turning back now. Yzerman clearly was tired of the slow rebuild pace and flashed his competitive fire with the offseason flurry. It was good to see, although he doesn’t necessarily have to flash it again at Friday’s deadline. The Wings are flush with scoring forwards but could use a top-four defenseman, for sure.

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