Detroit — The Red Wings feel they can do it, although they understand not many people are there with them.
Not many folks believe the Red Wings can mount a successful second-half run into the playoffs — and avoid missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
The Red Wings are optimistic they can.
“We’ve talked about it here the last couple weeks,” said forward Gustav Nyquist, just after the Red Wings’ closed the first half last Sunday with a 5-2 loss against Tampa that ended a four-game win streak.
“We all think that we are better team at his point than we were last year, although (the record) looks very similar. We’ve made strides as a team.”
Individually, more players are having better seasons. But collectively, especially in the most important statistic — the standings, the improvement is difficult to see.
After 41 games — the halfway mark in the NHL schedule — the Red Wings are 17-17-7 (41 points). That’s one point better than what the Red Wings were last season (17-18-6, 40 points).
What gives the Red Wings added confidence is a 4-1-0 homestand that often showed the team at its best, and what can be accomplished if every facet is working.
The loss to the Lightning was the lone disappointment in a homestand that kept the Red Wings on the cusp of playoff contention.
“We’re doing a lot of things to be successful,” said coach Jeff Blashill, who added he hears positive reinforcement from coaches and players around the NHL. “We have to stay on it and understand we’ll be in lots of (close) games and we have to find a way to win them.
“We have to keep doing it right. We need points, we need wins, but we need to keep doing it right. Just play as complete as we can and find a way to win.”
The Red Wings entered play Friday seven points behind Carolina for the second and final wild-card spot — and having played two less games than the Hurricanes.
Four teams separate the Red Wings and the Hurricanes, which adds another substantial hurdle.
But the Red Wings feel the obstacles are manageable — they also play 23 of the 41 remaining games on the road — as long as they continue the positive momentum from the home stand.
“We’re a few points out right now but if we keep playing the way we’ve been lately, we’ll have a good chance,” Nyquist said.
Said forward Dylan Larkin: “We’re right there (in the standings). We’ll have a couple of games to make up (on other teams) when we get back. It’ll be good to come back and dial it in and make a push (for the playoffs).”
To open the second half of the season, the Red Wings take on Pittsburgh at 1 p.m. Saturday (FSD/97.1) to start a weekend back-to-back road trip that follows with a game in Chicago at 12:30 p.m. Sunday (NBC/97.1).
There are probably easier ways to come out of a bye week for an NHL.
The Red Wings flew into Pittsburgh late Friday afternoon and practiced. They'll play the early Saturday afternoon game before flying to Chicago.
The switch by the NHL to cover Sunday’s game meant a time change from early evening to late morning Chicago time, and canceled any hopes for a morning skate.
But the Red Wings are eager to get back to work and battle for a playoff spot.
“You look at the overall picture, we’ve had a really good stretch,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “We have to come back after (the bye) and really go at it until the All-Star break and get ourselves back into the thick of things. We still have work to do, but we have to continue to play as well as we did this homestand.”
Red Wings at Penguins
Faceoff: 1 p.m. Saturday, PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh
Outlook: The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins (22-19-3, 47 points) are outside the playoff picture…G Matt Murray (family matter) returned to Ontario and is likely unavailable for Saturday…Both teams are coming off a five-day break because of a “bye” week.