I was going to put up some kind of story about rallying for a victory or getting used to playoff intensity for the next month or asking if this is what it's like to cheer for a bubble team, but I've got nothing.
Nope, tonight was simply entertaining. Entertaining because the expectations are finally low enough that every loss isn't a crushing disappointment of what should have been. When your team has literally run out of forwards and uses a first-round-pick defenseman as the 12th forward, you know that the team probably isn't supposed to win. When your team features literally half of the roster that won the AHL championship from the year before in the middle of the stretch to make the playoffs, you know that the team probably isn't supposed to win. When the team can't afford to make any mistakes of any kind because the probability that the puck will end up in their net is higher than the state of Colorado, you know that the team probably isn't supposed to win.
That's what makes nights like tonight so satisfying. Because, yes, at full health the Red Wings are a better team than the Leafs. But they weren't playing at full health, and they lost another player to injury tonight, and the Leafs have some damn scary players that can score almost at will, and none of that mattered because the Wings won. Whether it means anything or not hasn't been determined yet, but for one more day the belief still exists that this team can somehow sneak their way into the playoffs.
On to the bullets:
- I was on board with the idea of Brendan Smith as a forward because it's out-of-the-box thinking for a team that needs something to shake them up, but he didn't get much of an opportunity to really do anything as Jonathan Ericsson got hurt late in the 2nd period and he went back on defense. However, should Ericsson be ok and no other forwards come back, I'd like to see this happen again.
- Landon Ferraro became the 7th player to play his first NHL game this season for the Red Wings, and the kid didn't look out of place. Sure he was totally sheltered and didn't play a lot and didn't have any major impact offensively or defensively but his body appears to be intact and he can play next game so congrats kid!
- With all the injuries, the pressure on Jimmy Howard has ratcheted up by a million and boy oh boy did he come to play tonight. He absolutely robbed James van Riemsdyk early in the first period and stopped 2nd-leading-scorer-in-the-NHL Phil Kessel on a partial breakaway in the second, and was great all night. The rebound control was a little shaky, and the defense allowed way too much traffic in front of him again, but he was outstanding.
- If I had a nickel for every time Drew Miller had the puck and was racing up ice against a lone defenseman, I could quit this blog and live on my own private island and count all 97 of my nickels. Hahaha just kidding J.J. I love the guy you know this.
- 6 injuries in 6 games. If they gave points for losing players midway through games, the Wings would have wrapped up the President's Trophy a month ago.
- For those keeping score, Jonathan Ericsson left the game with an "upper body injury" and will likely be "day-to-day" after being "re-evaluated" to see if he is in fact "still alive". (note: it turns out that he broke his finger and will be seeing a hand specialist to determine whether amputation is a viable option)
- This is pretty cool:
- I don't care what happens this off-season (which is a thing I'm saying to set up my next statement because this next summer is the most crucial one of the last 20 years for this organization) but Gustav Nyquist needs to get a long-term deal and make lots of money because he is the best and everyone else is not. I literally weep when I remember that he started the season in Grand Rapids. I'm not even upset that he's leading the team in goals, because that means HE'S SCORING GOALS.
- Daniel Alfredsson breaking out of a long scoring slump to score the game-winning goal against a Leafs team that could start a free fall at any second on a night where Ottawa gives up 8 goals is probably as good as it's going to get.
- The Wings don't have to play another "Biggest Game Of The Season" until next week, but dates against the Penguins followed by a home-and-home against the Wild are pretty important. Me? I'm going to enjoy this win a lot, because it's always a good night when the Wings beat the Leafs.