With expectations low, Red Wings could surprise many in the playoffs

Detroit's young players will have to come up big in the Stanley Cup Playoffs if the Wings are going to advance far.

Detroit’s young players will have to come up big in the Stanley Cup Playoffs if the Wings are going to advance far.

Better late than never, right? The Red Wings won their last four games of the regular season and snatched up 17 points in their last 13 games to slide into the playoffs for a 22nd straight season.

Fans of the local six seem relieved but not so optimistic as the Wings begin the second season. Maybe it’s the lackluster play that was draped over the Detorit hockey club most of the season, or maybe it’s the absence of icon Nicklas Lidström, or perhaps it’s due to the prolonged and nasty labor stoppage that delayed the beginning of the season and wiped out the Winter Classic, resulting in an abbreviated schedule. Whatever it is, hockey mania is subdued in Motown this April.

But maybe that’s just what this team needs?

The Wings are a team and franchise in transition. Over the last five years they’ve shedded legends like Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, and Lidström. Their current marquee stars are on the wrong side of 30 (Henrik Zetterberg is 32 and Pavel Datsyuk is 34). The young stars have not materialized at the rate that GM Ken Holland would like. The economics of hockey are different than they were a decade ago: Mike Ilitch can’t just write checks to fill out his roster with future Hall of Famers. It takes more hard work, scouting, and some luck, to get to the winner’s circle.

But a look at recent history shows that teams with a difficult regular season can win the Stanley Cup. Last season the Los Angeles Kings not only defeated the #1 seed in the first round, they proceeded to topple the #2 and #3 seeds on their way to winning the Cup. And the Kings don’t have any player as dynamic with the stick as either Zetterberg or Datsyuk. The Kings accomplished their run to the Cup after changing coaches in mid-season. Mike Babcock gives Detroit one of the NHL’s best game coaches behind the bench.

With Babcock anxious to push his team past the first round for the first time since 2011, given the Wings’ hot streak to end the regular season, and the experience that their star players have, Detroit at the #7 seed is a difficult draw in these playoffs.

The Wings defeated the Ducks twice on their ice in the regular season, so they aren’t intimidated by their opponent on the road to open this series. The rookie line of Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, and Damien Brunner has steadily improved and their speed could cause real problems for Anaheim.

Of course, a second round clash with the Chicago Blackhawks looms if the Wings win their first round series. But this Detroit team has enough experience and talent to make a run at the Cup, as unlikely as many may think that would be. Don’t count them out, this team is peaking at the right time.