This past week, Detroit encountered a five-game stretch, all against Eastern Conference foes who are either battling for a playoff spot or firmly secured as a playoff team. With road games at Columbus and Toronto, and attempting to protect home ice against Eastern heavyweights Montreal, Tampa Bay and Boston, the Red Wings had their hands full.
Detroit opened up this week on the road against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have been engaged in a battle for the playoffs with Detroit and other clubs for the last few weeks.
The first period started off with a quick penalty from Todd Bertuzzi for high-sticking, and Blue Jackets’ center Ryan Johansen scored on Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard. After Columbus’ quick 1-0 start, Jackets’ forward Brandon Dubinsky scored another powerplay goal.
The Red Wings started their rally at the end of the first period and most of the second period. This charge was led by Gustav Nyquist, who scored one goal late in the first and the only goal of the second period for either team.
With the score tied at two, controversy took over the game. Following a shot by Jackets’ forward Matt Calvert, Brendan Smith of the Wings laid a hit on Cam Atkinson. Atkinson’s leg took the net off its moorings, but proceeded to knock the puck in the net for a goal. The refs ruled that the goal counted, because Smith’s hit caused the net to pop off.
After the reviewed goal, the Wings could not gain any momentum. A late empty-net goal from Columbus made it a two-goal victory for the Blue Jackets.
Two nights later, the Red Wings returned to Joe Louis Arena to take on the Montreal Canadiens. The Red Wings were hoping for a boost with the return of Tomas Jurco, the speedy forward who missed seven games with a broken rib.
Montreal had different ideas, particularly Tomas Plekanec. He scored two first period goals and the Canadiens jumped out to a fast 2-0 lead. Detroit’s Riley Sheahan scored early in the second to narrow the margin, but Canadiens’ forward David Desharnais scored later in the second, regaining Montreal’s two goal advantage.
The third period was quite a different story. Detroit’s Tomas Tatar scored two goals in the first five minutes of the period, suddenly tying the game at 3-3. Just over a minute after however, Max Pacioretty of Montreal snuck one past Howard. Thomas Vanek scored later in the period for the Canadiens, and despite a Johan Franzen goal only a minute after Vanek’s goal, Montreal held on to win 5-4.
The next meeting for the Wings was against Toronto, a team who had lost seven straight games and were suddenly out of a potential playoff spot. Detroit, still in contention, saw an opportunity to take advantage against a reeling Maple Leafs team, and Darren Helm capitalized.
Although the Maple Leafs scored first, the second period was completely dominated by Helm and the Red Wings. Early in the second, Helm tied the game at one with a shorthanded goal, and two minutes later, Gustav Nyquist scored his 21st goal in 26 games, giving Detroit a 2-1 lead. About three minutes later, Helm scored another, and Detroit climbed to a 3-1 lead. Toronto, desperately trying to stay alive in the game, got a goal from Joffrey Lupul late in the second to cut the lead to one.
In the third, Darren Helm and the Red Wings would not be denied. After a great pass from defenseman Danny DeKeyser, Helm had a breakaway opportunity, juked Toronto’s goalie, and netted a hat-trick, the first of his career, and the Wings got back on a winning track.
Next up was Tampa Bay. The Lightning had already clinched a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Red Wings, sitting in the eighth position, were in desperation mode. In addition, Justin Abdelkader returned after missing seven games with a leg laceration.
Former Wing Valtteri Filppula opened up the scoring in the first for Tampa Bay, but Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist scored later in the period, and the first intermission saw the Red Wings up 2-1.
In the second, David Legwand scored on the powerplay, and the Red Wings had a two-goal advantage. A Sami Salo goal in the third for Tampa Bay cut it to one, but Jimmy Howard and the Detroit defense stood tall against one of the best offensive clubs in the NHL, and sent Wings’ fans home happy with a 3-2 victory.
Lastly, Detroit took on Eastern Conference powerhouse and a heavy Stanley Cup favorite in the Boston Bruins. The Bruins lead the Eastern Conference with 110 points, but knew they were in for a tough test against the surging Red Wings at the Joe.
The first period saw little action until Johnny Boychuk of Boston sent a shot past Jimmy Howard to open the scoring. Tomas Tatar scored the only goal of the second period, and heading into the second intermission, the score was tied at one. Boston scored once more in the opening minutes of the third period, and Boston maintained an edge up until Tomas Jurco scored to make it even once again.
Shortly after, Gustav Nyquist saw an opportunity. He had not taken a shot all game, and the Boston defense had done a marvelous job containing one of the NHL’s hottest players. Nevertheless, Nyquist received a pass from David Legwand after a Bruins turnover, shook off Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, and whizzed a wrist shot right under the glove of goalie Tuukka Rask.
With only two weeks left in the regular season, Detroit heads down the stretch on a three-game winning streak, while other playoff contenders such as Toronto and Washington have been slipping.
The Red Wings currently sit in seventh in the Eastern Conference.
OTHER NEWS AND NOTES
Gustav Nyquist was named one of the three stars of the month of March. He scored 12 goals in the month and tallied a total of 18 points. He was the breakout player Detroit needed to keep their postseason streak alive with all the injuries they have suffered.
Justin Abdelkader and Tomas Jurco both returned to the lineup this week. According to a Detroit Free Press interview with Pavel Datsyuk, he is expected to return to the lineup Friday against Buffalo.
Nathaniel Bott is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.