The Wings are in the midst of a war of attrition coming down the final stretch with bodies seeming to drop by the double with each game. Missing from tonight’s lineup after injuries in the game against Buffalo were Frans Nielsen and Jonathan Ericsson who had barely just returned. As a result we saw the return of Martin Frk to the lineup, and the debut of Jake Chelios, son of Chris. The Wings once again rostered an 11 forward, 7 defenseman lineup. Between the pipes Bernier returned to the net with Howard having started last night against Buffalo. The Wings were a suddenly hot team entering this contest, having won 5 of their last 6.
This game was a big one if you’re watching the lottery positions as the Devils were only one point behind the Red Wings. Were the Wings up to extending their recent winning streak or were the mounting injuries going to prove too much to overcome?
The Wings got a decent chance early when Larkin hit Mantha with a cross-ice blue line to blue line pass, Mantha had a bit of space as he moved towards the net and fired one that Blackwood was able to swallow up. On the ensuing faceoff, Larkin found a way to knife towards the crease and tried to sneak one five hole and then collected his own rebound and tried to beat Blackwood from a tight angle but was unable to find the net.
The Wings carried the play early with a 7-1 shot advantage by the 7:00 mark. But a couple minutes after that Bernier faced his first test and it was a good one as Palmieri cut across the crease, Bernier was able to extend his pad to make the save as the Devil forward tried to reach around him. But on the play Bowey was called for a slash on Palmieri and the Devils went to the first powerplay of the game. McIlrath made his presence felt with a big hit in the corner on Zajac early in the man advantage. The Wings managed to kill off the penalty without New Jersey getting any good chances.
With the help of the powerplay and some improved play afterwards New Jersey closed the shot gap over the middle section of the period. After one shot, Jake Chelios showed shades of his father mixing it up with Wood from the Devils in front of Bernier after a save by the goaltender. It didn’t quite lead to a fight, but Chelios did toss his gloves off during the shoving.
Soon after that shift the Larkin line was establishing a good forecheck on the Devils. After forcing a turnover, Bertuzzi worked the puck up high to Larkin as the Wings rotated around the zone. As he scanned the zone he saw DeKeyser sliding down towards the net and sent a shot-pass towards the defenseman who made a good touch on the redirecton beating Blackwood, 1-0 Wings.
Not long after the goal the Wings blew a coverage in their own end as the Devils made a play from behind the net to Noesen who was wide open in front but luckily fired it wide. The Wings went the other way a few moments later and a pass found Bertuzzi across the slot but Bertuzzi misfired the shot slightly and fluttered one that Blackwood was easily able to redirect to the corner. The Wings continued to establish some good pressure after the shot ending with an Ehn shot from the point that Blackwood was able to snag. The Wings carried the play through the rest of the period, only giving up two shots or so in the final 10:00.
The Wings took a 15-8 shot advantage to the break and carried the play through most of the period. DeKeyser was noticeable trying to help offensively, on multiple occasions sliding low into the offensive zone trying to get open including on his goal.
Not long into the 2nd period, the Wings worked the puck around the offensive zone as Mantha threw a backhand pass from behind the net out toward Bertuzzi. The puck deflected off Bertuzzi’s skate and found it’s way right to Larkin right in front. Larkin made no mistake quickly snapping a shot to the top of the net on the short side, 2-0 Wings.
It was the Devils with the next chance, as a shot was put on net from the top of the left circle. Bernier got a piece of the shot with his glove, and the puck deflected up and hit the top of the net instead of dropping into the net. Bernier had to come up big again as Butcher sent a puck from the point across the zone down low to an open Hischer who one timed a shot on net. But Bernier was able to kick his pad out to make the save. A few shifts later it was Bowey and DeKeyser who took turns on point blasts setup by the Larkin line. DeKeyser’s shot stung a Devils defender sending him to the bench for repairs.
As expected the Larkin line continued to be the source of any offense the Wings were able to generate. Athanasiou showed flashes occasionally through the game to this point but couldn’t quite find openings to the net. Blashill was bold for putting McIlrath and Chelios together as a pairing in this game but to this point they had fared alright. Not great puck movers necessarily but they didn’t look out of their element for the most part.
The 2nd period as a whole didn’t have much action to get excited about as the Devils outshot the Wings 13-11 but not many for either team left much to get excited about.
Surprisingly to start the 3rd period, Howard came in to finish the game. Obviously Bernier tweaked something that seemed to bother him more during the intermission. The broadcast team pointed out that it was an upper body injury that forced him out of the contest.
Less than a minute into the final period the Wings grabbed a powerplay when Connor Carrick went to the box for cross checking. The Wings put a few shots on net during the man advantage but nothing that forced Blackwood to make a difficult save. Instead it was the Devils with the best chance during the powerplay when Hronek turned it over at the offensive blue line and Rooney raced off on a breakaway but couldn’t beat Howard with a shot to the glove side.
The Devils continued to apply pressure after the penalty expired with Hischer making a drive through the crease area but unable to get a clean shot off. When Detroit worked the puck down to the offensive end afterwards, Chelios showed a bit of confidence as he crashed towards the net looking for a loose puck. The pace continued to pick up over the opening few minutes of the period but the teams exchanged several offensive zone turnovers each not leading to many chances for either side. The closest one may have been one that bounced off the end glass and came floating down back towards the goal and Blackwood had to be careful not to let it hit him and bounce in.
Just past the halfway point of the period, Athanasiou was hit with a pass at the offensive blue line after a Devils turnover. He had a chance on a defender one on one but as he made his move he lost an edge and went sliding into the goaltender while the puck skidded to the corner. Hirose came close later on a distance shot that caught the shaft of Blackwood’s stick. A few minutes later Chelios received a puck at the blue line and elected to send a hard pass towards Helm. The puck redirected and caught Helm in an awkward spot, sending the forward immediately to the bench. But Helm stayed on the bench, and did return to the game.
The Wings continued to keep the Devils at bay not allowing them to generate any dangerous chances with only 5:00 remaining. As the Devils made their late push for a goal they pulled Blackwood with just under 3:00 remaining. A strange bounce off the end glass in the Detroit end put the puck right on Bertuzzi’s stick. He made a long distance attempt from his own blue line at the empty net and hit it right in the heart, 3-0 Wings.
After the goal Blackwood returned to the net, but the Wings weren’t finished yet. Athanasiou circled near his own goal and raced up the boards to pick up a touch pass from Frk. Athanasiou streaked through the neutral zone at full tilt, split the New Jersey defenders as he crossed into the Devils zone. He then quickly snapped a shot to the far side beating Blackwood on his glove side. The goal was Athanasiou’s 30th on the season, a big milestone, 4-0 Wings.
If you’re on team tank this wasn’t the result you were looking for, but you have to feel good about the heart this rag tag group is showing. A team absolutely decimated by injuries that wasn’t great when they were at full health has been on a tear with a group that has nearly half an AHL roster.
Larkin continued his dominant play throughout this contest pairing his 12 shots in last night’s game with another 8 tonight. Bertuzzi had an outstanding contest with a goal and two assists. Howard played well coming in to finish off Bernier’s shutout. Hirose finally had his assist streak snapped but he still continued to make smart, subtle plays and is quickly playing himself into strong consideration for next season. Ehn had a sneaky good game earning 5 shots on his own and seemed to do a decent job of establishing puck possession in the offensive zone. All in all there’s been a lot to be excited about, at least up front for the Wings, regardless of your feelings on lottery balls. LGRW!