There were two points for the taking, and the Detroit Red Wings took care of business Friday night against the Buffalo Sabres, taking another step toward cementing their place in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Red Wings dictated to the Sabres and took advantage of the worst team in the league early on and decided three goals was enough.
Darren Helm opened the scoring early, skating to the near post and depositing a puck dribbling to the front of the net. The power play extended the lead as Danny DeKeyser fired a point shot that Tomas Jurco tipped at the top of the circle past Matt Hackett. First period scoring ended when Daniel Alfredsson deposited a rebound off a Niklas Kronwall point shot, and the Red Wings took full control of the game from there.
The Red Wings started the second where the left the first with plenty of pressure on the Sabres net and bidding for a fourth goal. Unfortunately, Brendan Smith took a high-sticking penalty, and Jamie McBain quickly put the Sabres on the board on the ensuing power play. After a dominating start, score effects started taking over.
Right after Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond announced that Columbus lost in regulation, Nicolas Deslauriers (hi, J.J.!) cut the deficit to one on a one-timer off a sweet skate kick from Johan Larsson on a stalemated faceoff. Of course, it was his first NHL goal. Detroit immediately started pressing to restore the two-goal lead, but thankfully the Sabres also failed to score anymore goals and Detroit walked away with two more points.
Pavel Datsyuk worked into the game rather slowly, averaging about 30 seconds per shift in the first before starting to take a regular shift in the second. He carried the puck well and found his spots, but it was a rather quiet game from Datsyuk. Is he really back though? Well, why don't you ask Mike Babcock, who decided to put him out there for the final 1:27 of regulation.
Gustav Nyquist didn't factor into the scoresheet, but did he ever look dangerous. There was a moment in the third period where he was moving in on a rush to take a shot, and people in the stands in the bottom part of the TV screen were out of their seats waiting to see what would unfold. Nyquist has become the poster child of a lot of the fun we've had with this team over the past few weeks, even through all the nervousness of the playoff chase.
Jimmy Howard didn't need to be that great, but he definitely did his job and made sure not to let anything get by him that would deflate the team. He was on point tonight and made the saves he had to.
Some players had great games. Danny DeKeyser had a two-assist game, Johan Franzen was attacking the net with authority, and the Red Wings especially in the first period could have set up hammocks in front of Hackett with how the Sabres defense was covering players in the zone. But the Red Wings definitely still need to get on the "playing a full sixty minutes" train down the stretch. This wasn't the cleanest win ever against the last place team in the league, now officially cemented in last place. Still, two points are two points, and we now have a three-point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets after their regulation loss to Chicago tonight, and a four-point lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs, who play against Winnipeg tomorrow.
Time to get back on the horse immediately with a game against Montreal tomorrow. No rest for the weary in the middle of a playoff race.