You can look at games in hand and the upcoming schedule and project all you want, but at this time of year, the results are the results and the standings are the standings.
And so it is that on Thursday morning, the Detroit Red Wings, playoff participants every season since 1990, find themselves on the outside looking in. The shocking state of affairs in the Western Conference comes as a result of a gritty comeback win by the Cinderella Columbus Blue Jackets, who edged Anaheim 3-2 in overtime Wednesday night as the Wings folded 3-2 to the lowly Calgary Flames at the Saddledome.
Credit goes to the Blue Jackets, who trailed 1-0 and 2-1 to the playoff-bound Ducks before Fedor Tyutin gave Columbus the win in overtime. The Blue Jackets refuse to be bowed, in spite of the fact they are in the middle of a playoff-busting six-game road trip. They have won five in a row, the past three in either shootout or overtime. They still have to visit Los Angeles, San Jose and Dallas before closing at home April 27 against Nashville, so their work is not nearly done.
But what of the Red Wings, who have but one win in their past five games and three wins in the past 10? Yes, the Wings’ injuries, especially along the blue line, have been well-documented, but this is a battle-tested group led by Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, who aren’t getting it done offensively. The Wings have managed just 18 goals in 10 games. The power play has dried up, going 3-for-23 in six games, including 0-for-5 against the Flames. The Wings outshot Calgary 38-17, but still couldn’t close the deal against one of the league’s weaker teams.
The Wings still very much control their destiny as they trail Columbus by two points with a game in hand. They also own the tiebreaker in terms of the number of regulation or overtime victories. But those factors mean little if you don’t win, and losing to the Flames -- who are tied for 13th with Nashville for the second-lowest point total in the Western Conference -- is the kind of result that will loom large. The Red Wings have five games remaining, three at home, but unless they can find the back of the net, all of that will be moot, as will a postseason streak that dates back almost a generation.