It matters, and yes, it matters a lot. In case anyone wondered, that was the Red Wings' point — two points, actually — as the last desperate push began.

This wasn't quite single-elimination hockey, but it was close. And with their 21-year postseason streak teetering, the Wings went ahead and started their playoffs a tad early. That meant great goaltending by Jimmy Howard, scoring by Johan Franzen and heavy doses of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

It's nearly May and the Wings want to keep playing, and if Howard shines as he did in a 4-0 blanking of the Coyotes on Monday night, they'll keep the streak alive. With three games left, they're a point behind Columbus and Minnesota for the final spot, and the only way to guarantee it is to win out.

"You don't want to be part of it when the streak is over," Zetterberg said. "It's nice to play games that are playoff-like. It'll be that way for the rest of the year, and it's good for guys that haven't been in it."

The formula has changed, the margins are extra thin and the odds are longer than they've been in two decades, but of course the Wings want their shot. It was evident in bursts, as Datsyuk knocked into Phoenix players, as Detroit's power play started humming. It was evident when Howard finished off the shutout and the Joe Louis Arena crowd stood and roared.

Have fans and players been spoiled by the Wings' postseason birthright? Sure. But the best time to stop taking something for granted is when it's in danger. Howard has played well, but two huge mistakes in a loss at Calgary hurt. Not shaken up, he stirred it up and kept his team in this one. The Coyotes carried the action for stretches and outshot the Wings, 34-22, but Howard sprawled to make terrific saves.