BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING
When we saw the Detroit Red Wings defeat the Florida Panthers on March 19, 2016, 5-3, it appeared that a win in South Florida could be a sign that they would be on their way to a 25th straight playoff appearance.
On this night, the Red Wings would overcome a 3-1 deficit and defeat Panthers star goaltender Roberto Luongo. He was out dueled by Red Wings netminder, Jimmy Howard, who won his second straight game.
The atmosphere at the BB&T Center was Electric as a Panthers Record 20,817 fans showed up against a team which does pack this arena.
There was a Red Wings flavor before the game as an Octopus hit the ice in Sunrise, FL.
Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwell returned to the Red Wings line-up. Red Wings Announcer Paul Woods mentioned to me before the game that Detroit was 6-7-1 without Kronwell in the line-up.
The Panthers fans got their first look at Red Wings rookie right wing Anthony Mantha (6-5, 214), age 21 1/2 years old. He was playing his third NHL Game.
The Red Wings had their fair share of challenges during the game as Florida was 33-5-6 when scoring the first goal of the game. Tack on another loss for the Panthers.
Florida was 15-6-4 when tied after the first period. Once again, add another loss for the Panthers.
The Panthers were 15-6-1 against the Atlantic Division, and the Red Wings defeat gave Florida a seventh loss.
This win earned the Red Wings a day off to spend time on the Fort Lauderdale beaches as it had time to get ready for a huge showdown with the Tampa Bay Lightning three nights later.
Red Wings Head Coach Jeff Blashill came away pleased with the offensive effort by his team.
"I thought we did a good job for the 60 minutes," Blashill said. "That was our biggest focus; we've talked about it a lot. Making sure we play 60 minutes and making sure we're resilient. And when you get scored on, just keep going.
"The one thing with the offense was we got to the net and we're going to continue to get to the net to be successful here. That's the only way you're going to score in this league over, and over and over again and we found a way to do it."
The BB&T Center may not be Joe Louis Arena, but it had a Red and White Flavor to it.
Blashill described the atmosphere as, "When we play here, there's a lot of fans who spend winters here. When we come, there's always a good crowd here; a good mix of both fans."
I've covered a lot of games between these two squads and I would estimate that at least 45% are Detroit fans and they're quite vocal.
Since the Red Wings important win versus Florida, Detroit has gone 2-3 in that stretch. Tampa Bay blew out Detroit 6-2. In these five games, Detroit has allowed 22 goals. This isn't the time for the goaltending to go South for the Spring and to end their long playoff streak.
The Philadelphia Flyers (38-25-13, 89 points) hold the Final Wild Card Spot. They have a game in hand over Detroit having played 76. In 77 games, Detroit is 38-28-11 with 87 points.
Even if the Red Wings were to overtake the Flyers, I can't imagine Detroit winning s series against the Washington Capitals, who are 54-16-6 with a 114 points.
Detroit's best chance of making the playoffs may actually be overtaking the Boston Bruins, who have also played 77 games. The Bruins are 40-29-8 with 88 points in the Eastern Conference, Atlantic Division.
If Detroit surpasses Boston, there potential match ups could include Tampa Bay or Florida. I can only imagine what the crowds will be at the BB&T Center if this occurs.
Detroit does face the Philadelphia Flyers in one of its remaining five games.
For whatever it's worth, if the Red Wings were in the Western Conference, 87 points gets them into the playoffs. The first team out as of this post is the Colorado Avalanche with 82 points in 77 games.
But GM Ken Holland would have to log some extra miles in the Western Conference. But we'll never know now.
So it will be interesting to see if this playoff streak is extended. Expect the next five games to be the most intense hockey that Red Wings fans will watch in a long time.
The Red Wings host the Minnesota Wild on Friday at the Joe Louis Arena. Then, three of the final four games are on the road. They'll face former Head Coach Mike Babcock in Toronto, Philadelphia at home then wrap-up the season on the road against Boston and the New York Rangers Finale on April 9th.
It doesn't get any tougher than this!
Nothing like controlling their own destiny and pile up as many points as possible. No need to scoreboard watch or no motivational speeches needed!
We'll see if Detroit enters it's Final Season in Joe Louis Arena with 25 consecutive post-season appearances.
If the Red Wings playoff streak comes to an end, it won't be the only steak that ends.
There will be no Canadian based teams in this year's tournament. It will be be the first time since 1970, a span of 46 years that this didn't happen.
So now, "It's Crunch Time For The Red Wings!"
Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.
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