As Red Wings’ win streak hits 6 games, Detroit’s killer instinct is showing

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DETROIT — It’s been a while since the Red Wings have been in this position — trying to stave off challengers chasing them as the NHL season hits a de facto “eliminator” portion of the calendar.

Tuesday, they hosted a Washington team desperately working to scoop up points before the trade deadline, trying to reel in the Red Wings. Thursday, they’ll play an Islanders group hoping for the exact same. But in the first big test of their late-season killer instinct, Detroit blew the doors off of the Capitals, racing to a decisive 8-3 win — scoring their most goals of the season — in what amounted to a proverbial “four-point” game.

“It’s been a couple weeks now, but I think we’ve had the same mentality of taking advantage of these types of games,” forward Joe Veleno said after the win. “We’re going to find ourselves in positions throughout the stretch here where we’re going to be playing teams that are chasing us, and that are going to be right behind us or ahead of us. All these games matter, and against teams especially that are right behind us, it kind of gives us an extra chip on (our) shoulders when we’re coming in (to) play.”

To spell the stakes of Tuesday’s game out a little more clearly: had Washington won, the Capitals would have inched to within five points of the Red Wings in the wild-card standings. Not a crisis, but hardly a comfortable spot. Instead? The Red Wings sent them back to D.C. nine points back of the wild card (and six behind Philadelphia in the Metro), while Detroit is suddenly just two points out of third place in the Atlantic Division. That difference feels cavernous with how the Red Wings have been playing.

Significant work remains, of course. But Tuesday’s result was massive — both because of the playoff math surrounding it, and because of what the Red Wings’ performance in this game says about their readiness to handle more like it as March nears.

“It’s one thing to be playing games against teams you’re battling with,” head coach Derek Lalonde said. “It’s another thing to play a team that’s fighting for their season.”

That is what the Red Wings are up against right now. It’s the challenge they’ve earned by getting into this position — largely, as Lalonde noted, through their own similar urgency through the month of January, fighting to stay in the playoff race and getting themselves onto the right side of it. If anything, that should be a reminder of just how powerful desperation can be.

Certainly, Detroit has players that have been in this spot before in their careers. As veteran defenseman Jeff Petry put it Tuesday morning, “it’s definitely a good position to be in, but you have to handle it the correct way. You can’t look at it and say, ‘there’s a 10-point gap,’ or whatever it is right now, because those points can catch up to you quickly.”

But one thing that made their emphatic win especially encouraging was the contributions from players who haven’t yet been in this position at the NHL level.

Lucas Raymond was, yet again, outstanding for the Red Wings — scoring one goal and adding two big-time assists as he continues a torrid breakout season. He could have easily had another goal, too, if not for a 10-bell save by Capitals goalie Charlie Lindgren in the first period. He’s come on in a massive way for Detroit this season, now up to 51 points in 59 games and driving the Red Wings’ second line.

Moritz Seider made his impact in other ways, but he was extremely noticeable too, even in some facets that tend to be more subtle. He blocked five shots for the Red Wings and was credited with four takeaways — both game highs by comfortable margins. Michael Rasmussen’s contributions were along those lines too, not credited with a point but nonetheless laying the foundation for Raymond’s goal by winning a hard battle behind the net.

And don’t forget Veleno, who helped Detroit open the scoring by making a difficult play to corral a pass behind him with his skate before setting up Shayne Gostisbehere for a one-timer, and then sniped the back bar later for a goal of his own.

All of those players are first-round picks from the hard rebuilding years the Red Wings have gone through, and as a result, none have felt these moments before in the NHL. But they’re showing they aren’t afraid of them — and that’s the biggest thing Detroit could have asked for.

“I know it definitely feels a lot better when you’re in those positions,” Veleno said. “I love playing hockey obviously, and love being a part of winning teams, and I always have been for the most part of my childhood. So for me, I love playing in these kind of games. I love playing in big moments, and just a whole lot of fun — I think anyone can tell you that on our team. When we’re in this position, we’re hot, we’re climbing, it’s really fun to be a part of.”

Tuesday’s victory, by the way, gave Detroit its first six-game win streak since Steve Yzerman took over as general manager in 2019. The only current Red Wing who was in the lineup for their last win streak that long was captain Dylan Larkin.

There were moments Tuesday in which the Capitals threatened — they cut the lead to 2-1 early in the second and 4-2 later that period — but each time, the Red Wings quashed those hopes quickly. Veleno’s response to the 2-1 goal came after less than three minutes, and while the 4-2 goal seemed to give Washington a spark (including a near-goal that would have made it 4-3), Detroit snuffed that out too by way of a J.T. Compher shorthanded tally with just 13 seconds left in the frame.

It was a convincing performance — much like Saturday’s 6-1 trouncing of the Blues, and exactly the kind that shows the Red Wings’ growth from earlier this season, where even some wins were marred by getting too close for comfort late.

In some instances, of course, that’s inevitable. The NHL is the world’s best league, and in a given game, every team has the talent to make a substantial push with their backs against the wall. You can bet it will happen down the stretch here still.

But again: Washington walked into the building that way Tuesday. They needed to push from the outset. The Red Wings just wouldn’t let it happen. And it’s not the first time.

“I think we keep it simple to start, and then let the skill take over,” Gostisbehere said. “I think we’re starting to figure out our game, our identity as a team. We know what works, what doesn’t. What nights we have it, what nights we don’t (and) we’ve got to find a way to get two points or make something happen. I think it’s the maturity of our team, figuring out our identity of our team, and going forward it’s going to be important for these next couple months.”

It’s not going to get any easier — not with the Islanders coming in Thursday, and certainly not when the Stanley Cup-contending Panthers visit on Saturday. If anything, it’ll only get harder.

The Red Wings, though, are starting to show they don’t mind that. They might even enjoy it.

“Pretty cool to be a little bit on the other side now,” Seider said Tuesday morning. “Being chased is a lot cooler, I think, than chasing. But obviously you’ve got to be really dialed in. The other teams … they play with everything they have because their season is on the line. And obviously we’ve got to match that intensity, that compete. But still, I think having that confidence and that swagger too — just go out there, play our game, and then we should be able to beat everyone in this league.”

(Photo of Shayne Gostisbehere: Tim Fuller / USA Today)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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