Tuesday night in their fourth to last game of the season, the Detroit Red Wings ultimately took care of business against the Buffalo Sabres and are taking two more points with them to Pittsburgh. A game that started out sloppy eventually turned into the Red Wings favor as four different goal scorers brought the Red Wings to within one point of a 23rd consecutive playoff berth.
The game picked up where the last one left off: sloppy Red Wings play. If you missed the first period, you missed absolutely nothing (well, a Kronwalling, but even that was ignored because the first period was so bad, entertainment-wise). It didn't take long for the Red Wings' worst fear of this game to come true in the second, as Cody Hodgson fired a puck to the front of the net that Zemgus Girgensons tipped behind Howard for a 1-0 Sabres lead.
A strange sequence ended with the Red Wings tying the game. Niklas Kronwall went to the corner of his own zone and fed the puck to the middle before taking an elbow to the face. His teammates rushed up ice, and Johan Franzen fed the trailing Brendan Smith on a 3-on-2 who wanted to back up wingedoctopus's fanpost by leveling the game 1-1. The second would see some more drama as Jimmy Howard backstopped a huge 5-on-3 penalty kill.
Goals galore in the third: Darren Helm staked the Red Wings to a 2-1 lead, firing home a follow-up rebound off a point shot from a won faceoff. David Legwand gave us the dreaded two-goal lead, beating Matt Hackett off a terrific keep-in by Drew Miller of all people. Girgensons brought back the butt-clenching as he walked around Kronwall on a sweet move to cut the Red Wings lead to one. Pavel Datsyuk had a stellar last few minutes of the game, getting a key clear and later salting the game away with an empty netter from in front of his own bench.
Let's bring back the bullets:
- The Fox Sports Detroit broadcast cited a stat that the Red Wings scored at least 3 goals in a game for the 7th straight game and in 11 of their last 12. After much of the narrative earlier in the season was "Play Jonas Gustavsson because the Red Wings score goals when he starts," it's nice to see the offense stepping up and giving Howard something to work with.
- Let's talk more about that offense, huh? Smith, Helm, Legwand, and Datsyuk. Last game against Montreal: Datsyuk, Luke Glendening, Kronwall. Against the Sabres last time: Helm, Tomas Jurco, Daniel Alfredsson. And against Boston: Tomas Tatar, Jurco, Gustav Nyquist. I'm counting ten different names on that list. Funny what being healthy and having depth can do for you, huh? Now Nyquist doesn't have to score ten goals a game for the Red Wings to have success.
- Healthy players contribute and contribute big time. Datsyuk is playing solid hockey and doesn't seem to be feeling any worse for wear upon his third game back from injury. He hasn't yet stepped up to outright dominate a game, but then again, the team hasn't yet needed him to.
- Special teams need some more consistency. The first power play looked like world beaters, then managed next to nothing on the subsequent chances. The penalty kill gave up some good opportunities the Sabres couldn't capitalize on, then Howard stoned them on the 5-on-3.
- Don't look now: Legwand has 4 points in his last 5 games. One of the marks of a good coach is putting your players in a position to have success, and after getting dominated in a forgettable stretch after the post-trade honeymoon period, head coach Mike Babcock is putting Legwand in spots where he can contribute.
The Red Wings shook off a sleepy first period and woke up with the Smith goal. These are a huge two points because the out-of-town scoreboard is not doing them any favors: Columbus beat Phoenix 4-3 in overtime and is keeping pace for the first wild card spot. But remember who's still in the driver's seat: Detroit still controls their destiny even against a tough opponent tomorrow, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Take care of your own business, and you won't have to worry about what anybody else is doing. They're getting closer, but they're not there yet.