Pregame: Red Wings @ Lightning – Game 1

Though they may not deserve it, the Red Wings open their 25th consecutive trip to the playoffs in Tampa tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

These two teams met in the opening round last year, with Tampa Bay rallying from down 3-2 in the series to win in seven games, but there are some differences this year.

For the Red Wings, Jimmy Howard has reclaimed the starting role in goal. Forward Brad Richards – who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs with the Lightning during their Stanley Cup run in 2004 – joined Detroit in the offseason. Mike Green is in on the blueline with Marek Zidlicky having moved on to the New York Islanders. Landon Ferraro is now in Boston. Rookies Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou will be making their playoff debuts.

For the Lightning, a powerhouse team has been crippled by injuries. Forward Steven Stamkos is likely to miss the entirety of the playoffs with blood clots. Anton Stralman is out on the blue line. Tyler Johnson – who the Red Wings couldn’t contain last year – is questionable for Game One. Victor Hedman is returning from injury.

Stupid stat of the day: The Red Wings are a perfect split 17-17 all-time in Game One of the playoffs coming off a loss in their last game of the regular season.

As previously mentioned, Jimmy Howard gets the start for the Red Wings opposite Ben Bishop of the Lightning. Tomas Jurco, Teemu Pulkkinen, and Brendan Smith will be healthy scratches for Detroit.

Game time is 7:00 on FSD and NBCSN.

Red Wings to Open Playoffs in Tampa on Wednesday

The Detroit Red Wings will open their Atlantic Division Semifinal series with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday in Tampa, the National Hockey League announced on Sunday.

For the second consecutive season, the Red Wings and Lightning will meet in the first round, with Tampa Bay as the higher seed.

The series will be played with games every-other night, aside from a two-day break between Game Five and Game Six (if necessary). The full schedule is as follows:

The Red Wings’ 2016 Atlantic Division Semifinals Schedule
Date Opponent Location Time
April 13, 2016 Tampa Bay Lightning Away 7:00 PM; NBCSN
April 15, 2016 Tampa Bay Lightning Away 7:00 PM; CNBC
April 17, 2016 Tampa Bay Lightning Home 7:00 PM; CNBC
April 19, 2016 Tampa Bay Lightning Home 7:00 PM; NBCSN
April 21, 2016 Tampa Bay Lightning Away TBD; TBD
April 24, 2016 Tampa Bay Lightning Home TBD; TBD
April 26, 2016 Tampa Bay Lightning Away TBD; TBD

Albom: Datsyuk Returning to Russia

The rumors appear to be true: Pavel Datsyuk‘s time with the Detroit Red Wings is coming to an end.

In an exclusive interview with the Detroit Free Press’ Mitch Albom, Datsyuk explained his intent to return to his native Russia at the close of the current NHL season, leaving one year left on his contract with Detroit.

Datsyuk and I first spoke about his possible departure nearly a year ago. At that time he was already strong in his desire to rejoin his daughter Elizabeth, who is being raised in Russia by Datsyuk’s first wife, Svetlana. While the former couple enjoy a friendly relationship, Datsyuk said, he felt too absent from the day-to-day affairs of his child, and worried, as she entered adolescence (she is now 13) that he wouldn’t be there for guidance.

“It’s not an easy decision,” he said last May. “It did not happen yesterday. I talk with my daughter all the time. I see how she misses me, how she misses my advice… I want to come back and be closer.”

Datsyuk is leaving for the best reason there is. I see my daughter 50% of the time and go only days without seeing her and it’s not enough. To be away from his daughter for months on end must be a terrible burden. He has already missed so much. I don’t fault him at all for going home.

That said, given that he has reportedly been talking about this since 2012, I do fault Detroit GM Ken Holland if he doesn’t have a backup plan. Unless he makes some move – or somehow convinces Datsyuk to stay – the Red Wings will be stuck with Datsyuk’s $7.5 million salary against their salary cap next season. This is something he should have seen coming and should have planned for. We’ll see if he did.

Postgame: Red Wings @ Rangers – 4/9

“Red Wings Back Into Playoffs.”

That was the headline I thought about running instead of just doing my usual postgame thoughts formula. Double-meaning, eh? For the 25th consecutive year, they’re back into the playoffs. And they certainly backed into them.

Needing a win to control their own destiny, following a woeful loss against the Bruins on Thursday in a game in which they could have clinched, the Red Wings came out relatively flat against the Rangers. Sure, they kind of scored first, with call-up Joakim Andersson banging a loose puck in behind Antti Raanta on a play that was deemed to be offsides upon review, but they weren’t pressuring the Blueshirts at all for the first twenty minutes and ended the period down a goal.

They got better as the game continued, so that’s a positive. In the end, Jeff Blashill pulled Jimmy Howard for the extra skater at a ridiculous time, they gave up and empty-net goal, scored with an empty net to pull back within one, then completely blew twenty seconds of a six-on-three opportunity to lose the game.

And a few minutes later, the Ottawa Senators finished blowing out the Boston Bruins, giving the Red Wings the third seed in the Atlantic Division and a second-consecutive first-round matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

I’ve said repeatedly that this team does not deserve to make the playoffs. I still think that’s true. Thankfully, though, enough other teams didn’t deserve to make them that the Wings got in anyway.

The Lightning will be without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman and possibly Tyler Johnson. Aside from a blowout in their last meeting, the Wings played them close all season. It could be a good matchup. I don’t think it will be, given the Red Wings’ play in the last six weeks, but we’ll see.

Postgame: Red Wings @ Bruins – 4/7

Ten days ago the Red Wings were out of the playoffs and had lost control of their own postseason fate. Throughout the month of March, Detroit dropped games to the powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Pittsburgh Penguins, eliminated teams such as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, and – even worse – the Philadelphia Flyers, with whom the Red Wings are fighting for a playoff spot.

By rattling off a series of wins to start April – including Wednesday’s shutout of the Flyers – they were in control again heading into Thursday’s matchup with the Boston Bruins. Against another team with whom they’re fighting for a playoff spot, the Wings were in position to clinch their 25th consecutive postseason appearance.

And they fell flat.

In a game that could have sent them to the playoffs, the Red Wings looked like they forgot there was even a game to play. Sure, they had played an emotional game the night before. That’s an excuse to come out looking tired. They didn’t come out tired, they came out looking lost.

After the game, the Red Wings gave credit to the Bruins for playing like the playoffs were on the line. As if they weren’t for Detroit, as well.

The Red Wings still control their destiny. A win over the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon to close out the season and they’re in. But a win on Thursday in Boston would have done it, too, and instead they offered up an embarrassment.

It’s been the tale of two teams all season in Detroit. The one that grits out wins or the one that suffers losses that leave you shaking your head. One of those teams deserves to make the playoffs. That had better be the one that shows up on Saturday.