In case you haven't been paying attention (and that is understandable with everything else going on recently, good and bad), your Detroit Red Wings have put together their best stretch of hockey this season.  And they are now in a race for a playoff spot for the first time since 2016 (the last year of the Wings 25 year streak of playoff appearances).

With the Wings 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday night at Little Caesars Arena, they have moved into the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.  Their 64 points have them tied with Florida.  But with them having played three fewer games than the Panthers, Detroit gets the tiebreaker.

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The Wings have 25 games remaining in the regular season, and they have won seven of their last eight games.  But their upcoming schedule is difficult.  They host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night and then they play a two-game series at the Ottawa Senators next Monday and Tuesday.  One of them is a make-up game from earlier in the season that was postponed.

They're in the playoff race for a variety of reasons:

DYLAN LARKIN

The Red Wings captain (pictured above) is playing the best hockey of his life at the best possible time.  He leads the team with 57 points (with 22 goals).  That's 20 points more than David Perron, Dominik Kubalik, and Filip Hronek.  He is clearly the best player on the team. He is also an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.  He has said publicly he wants to stay in Detroit, and the team wants him back, too.  But an agreement on an extension hasn't happened yet.  It's the main underlying story for the rest of the season, stay tuned.

VILLE HUSSO

He has stabilized the starting goalie position.  He has played in 42 games with a 2.85 goals against average and a .907 save percentage.  He has played so well that last year's starter, Alex Nedeljkovic, got demoted to Grand Rapids.  Husso is signed for two more years at $4.75 million per season.  A pleasant surprise this season.

THE DEFENSE

They have upgraded their defense with recent draft choices Filip Hronek and last year's Calder Trophy winner (for top rookie in the NHL) Moritz Seider.  They've also added veterans Olli Maata and Ben Chiarot.  And last year's trade acquisition, Jake Walman, has been good too.  This has been the biggest improvement within the organization, IMO.

MORE SCORING DEPTH

Team president Steve Yzerman has also added scoring punch up front with free agent signings Andrew Copp, Dominik Kubalik, and David Perron.  And while second-year man Lucas Raymond has battled some injuries this year, he is a key part of their present and future.  So is rookie Jonatan Berggren.  Still, the team could use a little more depth here.

THE PLAYOFFS

Just so you know, the way the NHL Playoff structure works is this:  The top three teams in each of the divisions (Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central, and Pacific) automatically make the playoffs (The Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions play in the Eastern Conference, the Central and Pacific divisions play in the Western Conference).  And then the two teams with the most points after that get the last two spots (the Wild Card spots) to make up eight playoff teams in each conference.

As of this writing, the Red Wings (in the second Wild Card spot) would play the East's top seed, the Boston Bruins, in the first round.  That's not good as the Bruins have the best record in the NHL.  But considering that the Wings have gone six seasons without a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, just making it is an accomplishment.

Folks, you can jump on the bandwagon now.  While they aren't even close to a finished product, the Red Wings are definitely worth watching now.  And Derek Lalonde has been an upgrade at head coach over former coach Jeff Blashill.

Now Steve Yzerman...get Dylan Larkin signed long-term and then you can really build something.

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