With the Red Wings' playoff hopes still thin, they took on the Minnesota Wild in the first of a home-and-home series against their former conference mates trying to maintain the momentum they've built up in the past week.
I think it's pretty clear that we all know the situation if the Wings are to make the playoffs, which is that Detroit has at most 4 or 5 regulation losses available to them while still hitting that magical number of 94 points (the likely amount that earns them a playoff spot).
With that being said, one of the things that could not happen was getting swept in the next 2 games by the Wild. Coming off an emotional and unexpected OT victory against the Penguins (which, to be honest, was one of the regulation losses I thought the Wings would have), there were probably some who thought there would be a letdown and the Wings would end up on the losing side yesterday.
However, in what has become a very exciting and fun way to end the season, the Wings earned a very solid 3-2 victory over the Wild thanks in part to a guy who has become their go-to goal scorer, a guy who may be starting to earn a reputation for coming up in big moments (at least in the regular season), and a guy who has been criticized all season both by fans and the coaching staff but who has steadily gotten better over the last few weeks.
This was a very even game where the Wings came out on top, and if this playoff push is to continue, more results like this are needed.
- I am literally running out of words to describe the play of Gustav Nyquist. It's to the point where he is a threat to score every time he is on the ice, although looking at the boxscore I can't help but wonder why his line (with Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar) only had 10 minutes of ice time. For the record, no forward played over 20 minutes, but I'm going to guess this is a sign by the coaches that they are focused more on team defense and prioritizing preventing the opponent from scoring rather than looking to play a run-and-gun style. As long as the Wings keep winning, I'll hold my criticism but if this game ends up with the score reversed I'd expect to see the ice times different.
- Don't look now, but Jimmy Howard is getting warmer and warmer. He had 28 saves yesterday, several of them on quality scoring chances, but overall he once again kept the Wings in the game. Over the last 5 games, Jimmy has stopped 145 of the 158 shots he's faced, good for a .918 SV%. That includes a 39-save performance against the Penguins and giving up 4 goals to Chicago, who I still maintain is either the first or second best team in the NHL.
- Remember 2 games ago when we were all ironically laughing at Brendan Smith being named as a forward due to injuries, and then non-ironically crying when it was said he'd play on the top pairing with Niklas Kronwall? Smith turned in a performance yesterday that we have been waiting for for a very long time. A PP goal, assist on the GWG, and a 60% CF% performance against the Wild's best forwards (Parise, Granlund, and Pominville). Not only that, but he started 40% of his shifts in the defensive zone and still had positive possession stats. It's only a couple of games, but this has been the trend for him over the last month or so. Perhaps like with Jonathan Ericsson, Smith is finally figuring this whole "playing defense in the NHL" thing out.
- Much was made of the disallowed goal yesterday, and I didn't see it happen live as I was in the car and listening on the radio, but 2 things stood out for me about it: it didn't affect the outcome of the game, and the Minnesota radio guys stated it should have counted. For me, there's something almost comforting about a team's announcing crew admitting that the team they cover benefited from a mistake or bad call.
- Congratulations to Darren Helm on making out of the game alive. Please make this a tradition.
- That Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line is scary. All 3 were well over 75% in CF% yesterday, and the fact the Wings were able to keep them off the scoresheet is a testament to their defensive work and commitment to stopping them. With last change today, the Wings should be able to get their checkers out against them on a more regular basis.
- The win put the Wings back into the 2nd wild card spot in the East, and they now sit 1 point behind Toronto with 2 games in hand. Interestingly enough, the Wings are only 6 points behind Montreal with 2 games in hand on them, and with one more game between them still to happen. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, because if this season has taught me anything it's that as soon as you think you've figured this team out they do a 180 on you, but getting into the 3rd divisional playoff spot is not totally out of the question just yet.