The Detroit Red Wings took on the Minnesota Wild at Joe Louis Arena Friday night with the season nearing its conclusion, but the team’s fate still hanging in the balance.
The Wings had to win to keep pace in the race. The only chance to make the post-season is that third spot in the Atlantic Division, which is currently held by the Boston Bruins. The Philadelphia Flyers have played very well of late and are tied with Detroit’s 89 points, but have two very important games-in-hand.
Detroit’s streak of 24 consecutive playoff appearances is on the line, and it has proved no easy task this season to extend it.
The Bruins were also in action Friday, as they took their impressive 24-12-3 road record to St. Louis. If Boston lost and Detroit won, the teams would switch places in the standings. In that game, the Bruins held a 5-2 lead, which turned into a 5-4 lead. The Blues did manage to score a fifth goal, but only after their opponent had scored number six. St. Louis had four straight shutouts and a one-goal-against win coming into the game, and it was an uncharacteristically porous showing.
The Wild won the first matchup between the two teams on December 28 by a score of 3-1. Petr Mrazek allowed two goals (.941) in a losing effort, with Pavel Datsyuk scoring the only goal for his team.
However, Detroit could not afford another result like that.
The Red Wings have struggled in the second period, but in their previous game against the Montreal Canadiens, they scored three in the second and none in the first or second frames.
This time, the scoring was balanced evenly between the periods.
5:41 into the first, Detroit defenseman Mike Green gave the puck away to Jarret Stoll. Stoll had a clear shot, but hit the crossbar far-side on goalie Jimmy Howard.
They came into Friday night having scored at least one power play goal in each of their past six games (including three against Montreal and two against Florida). That streak would continue as Dylan Larkin scored following a Jason Zucker tripping penalty. He was defended by defenseman Ryan Suter. The shot quickly hit the stick of Suter and knuckle-balled past the glove of goalie Devan Dubnyk. It would originally be credited to Riley Sheahan, who was screening in front of the net.
Minnesota would have a second run-in with the iron late in the first. A point shot deflected past Howard and hit the far goal-post. Then Erik Haula had an empty net opportunity, but his shot sailed over the net.
2:32 into period two, Detroit made it 2-0 on a very impressive play. Gustav Nyquist received a pass from behind Dubnyk, and while skating forward, passed backward to Tomas Tatar, who then took advantage of a confused netminder and scored at a difficult angle. By the time Dubnyk realized that Tatar had the puck on his blocker side it was too late.
The Wild found themselves on the board late in the period as Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin’s point shot found its way past Howard.
In the third period, again just past the two-minute mark, there would be another goal. Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson took a shot near the blueline of which the rebound was not corralled by Dubnyk. Sheahan found the puck and reached around the stick of the Wild goalie to deposit it into the net.
Mikael Granlund of the Wild would give Detroit a scare at the midway mark of the third, as his wrist shot reached the inside of the far post and caromed into the net.
But, Detroit was able to hold on for the 3-2 win. The Wings have had a hard time lately holding onto leads late in games, notably, the last two games against the Canadiens. On March 24, the team nearly coughed up a 4-0 lead, as the Habs scored three third period goals in seven minutes.
“I thought our team did a great job of playing in the O-zone,” said Sheahan. “The D were doing a good job of gapping up and keeping pucks in and getting them to the net, so I think overall we did a good job. One of our goals was to get in front of the net and banging away at some rebounds.”
Jimmy Howard has had to save the Wings from a downward slide. Petr Mrazek, although spectacular all season, has hit a rough patch in the last month and a half. Howard has now won his last four full games.
“He’s really been playing well for us for sure,” said Nyquist of Howard. “We got confidence in both our goalies. We know we’ve let in too many goals but it’s never really been their fault, we’ve given up clear cut chances and back-door passes, so they can’t do anything about that. It’s just the guys in front that have to do a better job. But Jimmy’s doing real well and he was good again today.”
Detroit’s power play now sits at 19.1%, good for 13th in the league.
Faceoffs favored the Red Wings 32-22 (58%).
Alexey Marchenko had four blocked shots, half of the team’s total.
A Look Ahead
Detroit has four games remaining in the regular season:
Saturday @ Toronto
Wednesday vs. Philadelphia
Thursday @ Boston
Saturday @ New York Rangers