DALLAS — Make it 22 and counting for the Detroit Red Wings.
They are headed to the playoffs for the 22nd straight season after Henrik Zetterberg had two goals and an assist in a 3-0 victory over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night.
Jimmy Howard made 17 saves to post his fifth shutout of the season as Detroit secured the seventh spot in the Western Conference. It’s the lowest playoff seed for the Red Wings since the NHL moved to the 1 vs. 8 conference format in 1993.
Jonathan Ericsson also scored and Pavel Datsyuk had three assists for the Red Wings, who own the longest active playoff streak in major professional sports, six years longer than the San Antonio Spurs’ stretch of postseason play in the NBA.
“To be able to be back in the playoffs is a great feeling,” Howard said. “The streak means a lot to all of us, it just says how high the bar was set before us. It’s good for us to go out there and have high expectations.”
After losing several veterans who contributed to their four Stanley Cups and six finals appearances during the course of the streak, including future Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, the Red Wings had some uncharacteristic struggles early in the season, but managed to bounce back and finish strong.
“Obviously, I’m proud of the guys,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought as an organization, we did a real good job of rebuilding our D here on the fly.”
Detroit closed out the regular season with four consecutive wins by a combined score of 15-3. It will face second-seeded Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs.
“We’re happy the way we’re playing right now but still, we haven’t really done anything,” said Zetterberg, who has two goals and eight assists over the last four games. “This is not the end. We want to put a good run here. We’ve got to keep playing well. We face a good team and we have to play good hockey if we want to continue playing.”
Richard Bachman made 34 saves for Dallas, which dropped its fifth consecutive game. Dallas was eliminated from playoff contention on Thursday for the fifth straight season, the longest drought in franchise history.
“I thought we battled hard,” said defenseman Stephane Robidas, one of three players remaining on the Stars’ roster from their last playoff team in 2008. “Even though the game didn’t matter for us, I don’t think we gave up and that’s one thing we can be proud of the last month. We gave it everything we had and came up short.”
The Stars head into the offseason with the futures of general manager Joe Nieuwendyk and coach Glen Gulutzan in question. Nieuwendyk, whose teams have been in playoff contention into the final week in three of his four seasons as GM, is entering the final year of his contract, and the Stars have a team option on Gulutzan’s deal.
“That’s not under my control right now,” Gulutzan said, regarding his job security. “I’m going to continue to work. I’m going to continue to do what I do until I’m told otherwise. That’s all you can do.
“All I can say is that Joe’s been tremendous for me. I think he’s done a hell of a job. You can see with our farm team and the young guys that we have here.”
Despite trailing the Wings in shots on goal by a 26-13 margin, Dallas trailed just 1-0 at the start of the final period and went on the power play, but Zetterberg converted a short-handed goal to make it 2-0 at 1:57.
A nice lead pass from Datsyuk sent Zetterberg in on a breakaway and, after making a slick move to his backhand, he slipped it between Bachman’s pads for his 11th goal of the season.
Ericsson added his third of the year at 6:30, when his wrist shot from the high slot beat a screened Bachman just inside the right post.
Howard made perhaps his best save of the night with 7:41 remaining when he stopped Antoine Roussel after he raced in on a short-handed breakaway.
Zetterberg put Detroit in front with 1:43 left in the opening period. After battling Brenden Dillon for the puck in the right corner, Zetterberg slid a pass into the crease that ricocheted off the skate of Dallas defenseman Alex Goligoski between Bachman’s pads and in.
“Of course, it’s nice to get the lead,” Zetterberg said. “I think we created a ton of chances before that and they didn’t go in. Their goalie made some good saves and of course it’s nice to see that one go in.”
CBSSports.com wire reports