The Red Wings Are Still Alive! (For Now)

Which of the two Lucas Raymond goals was your favorite?

The first one felt like the true climax, coming as it did with so much pressure and so many just-missed opportunities before it. The Red Wings had everything to play for against the Canadiens, whose season is over, but for a while this was a strange Monday where nothing went the home team’s way. (Do you have any idea how tough it is to give up a goal to Rafaël Harvey-Pinard?) The Habs held a lead for practically all of regulation, including 4-1 late in the second. But the Red Wings, to put the “win” in “must-win,” got results from their aggression first with a J.T. Compher finish on a long pass from David Perron and then with an Alex DeBrincat shot midway through the third. It still wouldn’t have been enough, however, if it weren’t for Raymond rising above the chaos as time got short. Six attackers pummeled Sam Montembeault’s goal and were denied, until Shayne Gostisbehere left his skates to save a puck from leaving the zone and Raymond was left open down low. The winger had given an eternity to aim, and he didn’t miss.

The regulation tie meant Detroit’s year wouldn’t die on this night no matter what happened after. But really, in the densely packed race for the last wild card spot, a consolation point wouldn’t have done that much good. It was Raymond’s goal in the final seconds of overtime that won the game in the literal sense, when he squeezed a zone-to-zone sprint from his legs and played long-distance give-and-go with Dylan Larkin. The 22-year-old’s career-high 31 goals have included plenty of big moments for this desperate franchise. (His name sounds better shouted by Ken Daniels than anyone else’s on the roster.) But those moments were all just a prelude to this celebration.

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“I kind of blacked out, to be honest,” Raymond said afterward. “I scored an OT goal. Oh my god.”

Here’s what Detroit needs to happen next: The Red Wings, in their trip to Montreal for Game 82 on Tuesday, can’t lose in regulation if they want to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016. If they get two points, they need the Flyers to beat the Capitals in a game being played simultaneously. If they manage only one point, they need the Caps to lose in regulation and the Penguins to lose their own final game on Wednesday against the Islanders. (If everyone else loses, the Flyers can still sneak in.)

Finally, right at the very end, it’s possible to keep all the variables in your head at once. But that doesn’t make winning any easier. As the Habs showed in the first 40 minutes on Monday, even the dregs of the NHL feature hungry guys trying to make an impression. Playing in Montreal, just 24 hours later, will be a test of both mental and physical stamina.

Steve Yzerman took over as the Red Wings’ GM and anointed savior almost five years ago to the day. At that time, the franchise had gone three years without a playoff trip—something that hadn’t happened since the early ’80s. If you asked Wings fans, back then, where they wanted the team to be in five years, I believe the average answer would have been something like “Cup contenders.” These Wings are not that. With the playoff drought now at seven, they have only inched their way forward since Yzerman’s rock-bottom first year. The veterans they’ve signed have ranged from mediocre to helpful, I guess. The homegrown stars have not yet been able to carry a team. The roster is lopsided and overtaxed and totally untrustworthy.

But the funny thing about a pair of goals like Raymond’s is that they can erase the negativity, if ever so briefly. Forget the blown chances for points against Washington or Pittsburgh. Forget that all Raymond’s heroics really guarantee is that Detroit will be begging for the Flyers to deliver on Tuesday. What mattered as the horn sounded was this: The Red Wings got goals when they needed them. Does a great hockey team do anything more or less than that?

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