But it's official now — the Red Wings aren't going to the playoffs.
They became mathematically eliminated Thursday, losing 1-0 to the Washington Capitals sending the Red Wings to an early offseason for a second consecutive season.
The chances of making the playoffs have been extremely slim for a long time, but the Red Wings (27-36-11, 65 points) winning only once in the last 12 games (1-10-1) certainly didn't help matters.
Washington (43-24-7, 93 points) solidified its spot atop the Metropolitan Division.
This game was similar to so many of these losses in this long, losing stretch.
There was no score through two periods, the Red Wings having failed on opportunities in the opening two periods, then watched as Washington converted on its best scoring chance of the game.
The Red Wings failed to keep the puck in the zone, it eluded defensemen Xavier Ouellet at the blue line, and the Capitals were off on a 2-on-0 break.
Capitals forward Brett Connolly used Jakub Vrana as a decoy, and snapped a shot from the hashmarks high corner that keep Howard for his 15th goal at 6 minutes, 41 seconds.
Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer made the lead stand, stopping 39 shots.
As has been often the case for the last two seasons, the Red Wings' power play failed them through the first two periods.
The Red Wings enjoyed two power plays in the opening period and failed to convert, then had a glorious opportunity in the second period to take control — and didn't do it.
Penalties on Washington's Lars Eller (high-sticking Anthony Mantha) and T.J. Oshie (tripping Nick Jensen) at 12:24 gave the Red Wings a full two-minute 5-on-3 advantage.
The Red Wings put five forwards on the first power-play unit, but despite the realignment, nothing clicked.
They only had four shots on net during the two-minute span, and Grubauer had a good look at everything in front of him.
A slight chorus of boos, and deservedly so, rained down as the power play expired.
Grubauer, Washington's best player most of the evening, was called on late in the second period and came through stopping Luke Glendening in close after a feed from Justin Abdelkader behind the net.
The Red Wings appeared to take a 1-0 lead midway in the first period, but an apparent goal by Andreas Athanasiou was taken away.
Athanasiou gathered a rebound off Grubauer, wheeled around the net, and snapped a shot from the dot that beat Grubauer at 10:47 of the first period.
But upon review Tyler Bertuzzi interfered with Grubauer in the crease, knocking Grubauer off balance to affect his ability to make a save.
After Thursday's game the Red Wings have eight games left in what's been a disappointing season, with nothing much to play for these final little over two weeks.
But the Red Wings have insisted that it's important to continue putting forth a quality effort — never mind the draft lottery and benefit of losing these games and improving the odds of getting a better draft pick.
"We want to win every game possible," coach Jeff Blashill said. "I don't care if you been in this league a long time, if you're getting in this league, every single game in the NHL is special.
"There will be a time when you're not in this league anymore and you will wish you were. Let's make sure to take advantage of every day."
For these final two weeks, Blashill said it's important to "make sure we're paying attention to detail, and our work ethic is the same as it was Day 1."
This type of losing season is unfamiliar territory for the majority of Red Wings, who've never experienced anything like it in the NHL or in the minors in Grand Rapids.
"I've been a pro now for five years, this is the hardest year I've had with not winning many games and not being in the playoffs — it's super tough," forward Martin Frk said. "We know we probably can't make the playoffs, but we have to play every game hard and finish the season with good games."