The NHL regular season is a curious thing. It's not as long as baseball or like football where each game carries immense importance. What it is is a 7 month marathon where teams try to earn the right to play even longer and win a championship.
The 2013-14 season has been one of the craziest, wackiest, most intense, frustrating, and yes, exciting seasons in recent Wings history. After 20 years of relatively uneventful regular seasons, the Wings find themselves in a race for a playoff spot in the final week of the season for the second straight season. Last year, the Wings went on a 4-0 run to earn the 7th seed in the Western Conference, and turned that into being one goal away from the Conference Finals.
This year, the Wings don't need to be quite as desperate, but a playoff spot is still not a guarantee. The Wings enter the last week in full control of their own destiny, and if they take care of their own business a 23rd straight berth in the playoffs will become a reality. However, a few other teams still have their eyes on taking what the Wings believe to be theirs, and will do what they can to prevent Detroit from reaching the postseason.
(I've included Ottawa for shits and giggles (mostly giggles), because they are literally a point away from being eliminated from playoff contention. I guess Alfie knew what he was doing all along.)
We're all focused on Columbus, and certainly they are a concern, but New Jersey is the team to watch. At 34 ROWs, they already have a leg up on the Wings, and if they go 4-0 with at least one regulation or OT win and the Wings only go 2-2-0, they will finish ahead of Detroit. The Blue Jackets also have the ability to pass the Wings in pretty easy fashion by earning one more point than Detroit over the last 4 games. Toronto and Washington. Crippling losses to Winnipeg and New Jersey, respectively, pretty much did both of those teams in.
Here's the remaining games for the Wings, Blue Jackets, Leafs and Capitals:
|Red Wings||Blue Jackets||Devils||Maple Leafs||Capitals|
|At Sabres||Vs Coyotes||Vs Flames||At Lightning||At Blues|
|At Penguins||At Stars||At Senators||At Panthers||At Hurricanes|
|Vs Hurricanes||Vs Lightning||Vs Islanders||At Senators||Vs Blackhawks|
|At Blues||Vs Panthers||Vs Bruins||Vs Lightning|
First impressions? The Lightning are going to be big factors in whether the Wings earn their spot the easy way or the hard way, and the Wings can't rely on other teams to do their work for them.
If anything helps the Wings, it's that the Jackets' next two games are against the two teams directly competing for the final Western Conference Wild Card spot, and the Lightning will still be attempting to finish ahead of the Canadiens and earn home ice in their first round series. The Devils have the easiest schedule, and as long as they don't start Martin Brodeur, they could conceivably finish 4-0 and get to 92 points.
What's it going to take to earn a playoff spot? 92 points probably does it, but 93 guarantees it. Washington and Toronto can max out at 91 and 90 points respectively, so one win by the Wings and one loss by the Capitals puts Detroit out of reach for those teams. That leaves 2 teams battling for 3 spots.
The Devils can get to a max of 92 points, but that will require them going 4-0. Doable, but not a given. Should the Devils lose just one of their remaining games, the Wings would simply need to beat Buffalo and Carolina and they're in.
Ultimately it's in the Wings' hands. They've got 2 ridiculously winnable games and a third against a Penguins team that has nothing to play for except for getting on a roll heading into the playoffs. 5 out of 8 points and we can look ahead to the postseason. Knowing how this season has gone for the Red Wings, they're not going to make it easy on themselves.