Detroit Red Wings Fans: It's Time to Get Happy, Other Fans...Pray
They've won nothing.
They haven't secured a playoff berth.
They will not clinch home ice if they do and, when the playoffs start, they will face the toughest competition they've seen in years.
Still, if you're a Red Wings fan, it is now, officially, Happy Time.
There are a few reasons that this is the case.
After what has been a sometimes up, but mostly down year for Detroit's two premier forwards, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, the so-called "Euro Twins" are back to quietly performing as the best two-way players in the game.
Suffering from a team-wide, special teams malaise for the majority of the season, the Wings now boast power-play and penalty-kill units that are both in the top 10 in the league.
Johan Franzen has returned and is, quite apparently, ready to play. The Wings' star power-forward is rounding into his usual dominating form, just in time for the playoffs.
The team is currently on a five-game win streak, their longest of the season, and appear quite prepared to win five more.
Oh, yeah, then there's this Howard kid who, if he does not win Rookie of the Year, has already locked up team MVP for 2009-10.
All of these serve as neon signs that the Red Wings are, once again, a team to be reckoned with, if not feared.
The Red Wings are prepared to battle all the way to a playoff spot, and then, will be ready for the war after that.
What convinced me of this was an unlikely event.
On Saturday night, the Red Wings played the Nashville Predators through three periods and an overtime session to a scoreless tie.
This was followed up by an 11 round shootout match, the longest in Wings' history.
The Red Wings earned their fifth win of the season 1-0.
Now, we all know shootouts are a regular season happening, so it's not as if I see this as a winning strategy for Detroit during the playoffs.
And, unless you're a fan of tedious, defensive hockey and methodical goaltending duels (which I am not), the game itself wasn't all that exciting.
However, it was what the game represented that meant so much more than the final score.
As a team, the Wings looked calm, collected, and perfectly willing to grind out a win, however long it took.
Just what a team needs to do in the playoffs.
In goal, Jimmy Howard maintained a laser focus through 75-plus minutes of hockey, and 10 of those minutes were played alone, facing only opposing shooters.
Howard remained mentally tough and physically loose through all of this.
Just what a goalie needs to do in the playoffs.
Now, Detroit's current hot streak could be interpreted as a team peaking at the right time.
However, I disagree.
What I see is a team just starting to come together and rediscovering how to win, and win often.
That, my friends, is something the rest of the NHL and certainly the teams in the Western Conference should be very worried about.
There are some very, very good hockey teams that are going to be ravenously hungry for a championship when the playoffs begin.
However, of all the teams currently in the Western Conference playoff picture, only the Red Wings have tasted the deliciousness of the delicacy that is a Stanley Cup Championship often enough to practically consider the dish their own.
Combine that knowledge and experience with a fully-healthy, talent laden line-up just now starting to jell, and any team unlucky enough to draw Detroit in the first round will find they're about to meet the playoff opponent from hell.
All of this optimism and chest pounding aside (something I'm actually not want to do, but, more on that in a minute), the Red Wings still have to make the playoffs in order to do the damage they look more than ready to dole out.
Each win goes one step further towards ensuring that and, unless another rash of key injuries depletes this line-up in the next two weeks, they'll almost certainly make it now.
However, if one were to ask any team in the west currently headed for the playoffs if they feel ready to take on the Detroit Red Wings in the first round, not a single hand would be raised.
Taking on a healthy, confident, and hungry Red Wings team isn't something anyone can really prepare for.
Rather, its something you simply jump into and hope to survive.
The team I've watched over the past two weeks, is the team I've known and loved for nearly two decades.
It's also the same team the rest of the league has feared and hated during that same time.
Many had hoped that those emotions would be put to rest this postseason, as Detroit looked destined for the golf course in April not one month ago.
If you're a Red Wing hater, I'm here to tell you, don't stow those emotions too quickly, and, if this team is indeed just getting warmed up, get down on your knees, and pray.
As I mentioned a bit ago, parenthetically, I haven't exactly been a Red Wing chest-pounder this season.
In fact, until very recently, I've actually written several pieces expressing serious doubt bordering on outright pessimism that the Red Wings would even make the playoffs.
At this point, I think, I hope, I will be proved a largely foolish and reactionary idiot on this matter.
If, and again, I feel more likely, when , the Red Wings clinch a playoff berth, I will make sure to point out all my nay-saying and doomsday drivel and write an appropriately supplicant and self-deprecating article regarding my moronic notions that this entire season was doomed for the Red Wings.
Being wrong, will never have felt so right.
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