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Wings set for ‘all-or-nothing’ game at LCA against Capitals

Detroit — Little Caesars Arena opened for hockey in October 2017 and it’s safe to say Tuesday’s game against Washington will be as important a game as its ever hosted.

The Wings haven’t been to the playoffs during their time at LCA, but even more so, they’ve been out of the playoff picture so early, there really haven’t been any meaningful games.

But that’s about to change Tuesday as the Wings and Capitals play a colossal game for wild-card positioning in the Eastern Conference.

The Wings, with 84 points, entered Monday’s games alone in the wild-card spot, pending Pittsburgh’s game Monday night in Toronto. Pittsburgh, Washington and Philadelphia all had 83 points.

LCA has gotten loud and energized at times during certain games over the years. But the expectations are Tuesday’s game will be off the charts.

“We traded half of our team last year at the (trade) deadline and this place was still rocking down the stretch,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “We’re this late (in the season) in it with a purpose. I expect it (the crowd) to be as usual, which is exciting for the group.”

After Tuesday’s game, the Wings will have one more home game Monday against Montreal, while they visit Pittsburgh (Thursday), Toronto (Saturday) and Montreal (Apr. 16).

The opportunity, the Wings realize, is there for the taking if they continue to stockpile victories.

“We pay close attention to our standings and where we are,” forward Joe Veleno said. “Throughout the year it’s been a mindset of ours and a goal to play competitive hockey and get into the playoffs. It’s been a couple of years now (seven) we haven’t gone there and finally we have a real good chance.

“We pretty much control our own destiny.”

Veleno feels a good performance against the Capitals would be a gift back to the fans, who have been supportive of the Wings all season.

“We’ve gone through some adversity and stretches where we were hot,” Veleno said. “It would be nice to finish off on a good note and just play our hearts out and reward the fans for what they’ve given us. They’ve been supporting us through the good and bad stretches and the years.”

As the Wings have played more of these pivotal season-defining games, goaltender Alex Lyon feels they’ve gotten more comfortable with them.

“It’s always a learning experience,” Lyon said. “A lot of guys in our room have played in a lot of big games. It’s muscle memory. It’s brain memory and the way you’re thinking and feeling. The more you expose yourself to it, it’s like anything, you get better at it.”

The Wings have earned points in four of their last six games and won two of the last three. In this unique playoff race where no team has truly been able to make a sustained charge and take control of the playoff spot, that’s been good enough for the Wings assume control for now.

Lalonde doesn’t expect his team to be too high or low emotionally in one of their biggest games to date.

“We’ve been even keel, the same message throughout,” Lalonde said. “We’ve been in these all-or-nothing games for a while now. The guys have gotten a little more comfortable with it, so it’s the same message about our starts and doing the right things, and our team game.

“This group has been dialed and locked in. I’ve been impressed and proud of this group and how they keep battling through everything. They’ll show up.”


Capitals at Red Wings

 Faceoff: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena

 TV/radio: ESPN/97.1

 Outlook: The Wings lead the Capitals by one point (84-83) in the race for an Eastern Conference wild-card spot. … Coach Derek Lalonde said C Michael Rasmussen (upper-body) will miss a third consecutive game. … G Ville Husso (lower-body) was sent Monday to Grand Rapids on a conditioning stint. … The teams have split two games this season, Washington winning its game in overtime. … Washington is 0-4-2 since defeating the Wings on March 26. … G Charlie Lindgren (21-15-7, 2.82 GAA, .907 SVS) has led the Capitals’ second-half surge.

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