If the Detroit Red Wings end up finishing the season two points shy of a playoff spot, their loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night might just be labeled the biggest heartbreaker of the 2013-14 season.
As it stands, the Red Wings will need to play their most inspired hockey of the year over the next 10 games if they’re to extend their playoff run to 23 seasons.
A win over Columbus would have given the Red Wings some desperately needed separation from other teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race. They could have tightened their grasp on the first wild card spot with 82 points. Instead, they slid back into the final playoff seed and right into the middle of a four-way tie in points with Columbus, Toronto and Washington.
While no one can be sure of exactly how many points it will take for a team to make the playoffs in the East, James Mirtle at The Globe and Mail recently argued that 92 would be the magic number to secure the final wild card spot.
Assuming that’s accurate, with 82 points the Red Wings will only need to manage a .500 record over the remaining 10 games of the season and to still punch a ticket to the playoffs.
As it stands now, the Red Wings will need to accumulate a minimum of 12 more points over the next 10 games to hit that number.
That will be a remarkably tough task, given some of the competition the Red Wings will face during that stretch.
Speaking of the Bruins, the Red Wings will open the month of April by hosting Boston at Joe Louis Arena on April 2.
The Red Wings' April calendar will also see them face the Canadiens once again, along with the Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues. The Penguins are running away with the Metropolitan Division title and the Blues are currently the front-runners to win the President's Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season team.
That’s five games against four top-seeded teams—a tough schedule by any measure.
Detroit’s other opponents will include Tampa Bay, Toronto, Carolina and Buffalo (twice). Classifying these as somewhat less-formidable foes, let’s assume the Red Wings can bank wins and points against them.
That will only yield Detroit 10 points—presumably, two fewer than will be required for a playoff berth.
Given this scenario, if the Red Wings are to secure a playoff spot, they must find a way to beat some of the league’s best teams.
Which team will be the hardest for Detroit to beat down the stretch?
The Red Wings have dug remarkably deep of late, as evidenced by forward Gustav Nyquist’s outstanding offensive output that has earned him 25 goals for the season, a team best.
However, Nyquist will need to continue his hot streak and a few other players (we’re looking at you, Johan Franzen and Daniel Alfredsson) will need to start streaks of their own if the Red Wings are to steal points from the likes of the Boston Bruins or St. Louis Blues.
Additionally, Jimmy Howard will need to play remarkably well in goal, and Detroit’s young defenders, including Danny DeKeyser and Brendan Smith, will need to elevate their individual games to the next level.
To a man, the Red Wings will need to play their best hockey of the season the rest of the way in order to make the playoffs.