Steve Yzerman's patient plan paying off for the rolling Red Wings, who may end NHL playoff drought

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DETROIT (AP) — Steve Yzerman’s patient plan to turn around the Detroit Red Wings looks like it may be paying off.

The rolling Red Wings routed the Washington Capitals 8-3 on Tuesday night, winning six straight games for the first time in nearly five years with their first eight-goal game since 2017.

“We’ve got some work to do in some areas, but it’s very encouraging," Yzerman said in an interview with The Associated Press after his team's latest win. "We’re getting stronger as the season goes on.”

Yzerman returned to Detroit in April, 2019 — three years after its last playoff game — to take on the tall task of fixing a franchise that had fallen on hard times after being one of the league's best for two-plus decades.

The Hockey Hall of Famer spent his entire NHL career in the Motor City, where he's a favorite athlete, and the fan base kept its faith in him even as the postseason drought lingered under his leadership.

The Red Wings seem to have their groove back and are moving toward their first playoff appearance since 2016.

“They’re as good as any team in the National Hockey League," Capitals coach Spencer Carbery said.

Lately, that's been a fact.

Detroit has the longest active winning streak in the Eastern Conference — matched by only Nashville in the league — and leads the wild-card standings. The Red Wings are also closing in on Toronto for the Atlantic Division's third guaranteed spot in the playoffs.

Washington and the New York Islanders, who play at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday night, are among the teams chasing the Red Wings for a wild card.

If the Red Wings beat New York, it will be their first seven-game winning streak since January, 2012.

“These four-point games are new for us," Detroit coach Derek Lalonde said. "This late in the season, there’s a little extra urgency to them.

“But that team that’s chasing, they’re literally playing for their season. You saw that in New York last night, winning in Dallas, something not many people can do. We’ll have (the Islanders') best again on Thursday.”

The franchise’s fans, which included Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson against Washington, are clearly fired up about the team’s chances to make the playoffs. The seven-year postseason drought is Detroit's longest since the 1970s.

Lalonde is hoping Lions coach Dan Campbell is the next to make an appearance.

“I got the bat signal out,” Lalonde said. “I know he’s in the combine right now. Obviously I would love for him to come and address the boys.”

The Red Wings are led offensively by Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond. They're getting plenty of scoring support from the likes of veteran Patrick Kane, who was signed in November, and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who scored twice against the Capitals.

“We've got a pretty balanced attack with offensive contributions from all four lines, and defense,” Yzerman told the AP.

Detroit unleashed its offense throughout the night against the Capitals and seven of its players had at least one point in a game for the first time in eight years.

“Right from the start, you could see the talent through their lineup and through their roster and the plays they make,” Carbery said. “With the finish they had, it was on full display.”

Yzerman refused to spend significant money in free agency, or via trades, until the team was good enough to compete and he decided the time to make moves was last summer.

Alex Lyon, a career backup, was signed to add depth and he has emerged as the No. 1 goaltender with a four-game winning streak of his own to improve his record to 18-8-2 this season.

Lyon finished with 18 saves for the Red Wings, whose last six-game run was from March 23, 2019, to April 2 of that year, to help hold off wild-card contenders for at least another night.

“All these games matter, but especially against teams that are right behind us,” center Joe Veleno said. “That kind of gives us an extra chip on our shoulders when they come in here to play. It definitely feels a lot better to be in these positions."

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl