So many things about the Detroit Red Wings first visit of the season to face the Toronto Maple Leafs looked so similar to all of the depressing things that have been happening repeatedly over the last few months. There was a blown lead, followed by a trip to the shootout, where the team has been dreadful all year.
Daniel Alfredsson and Pavel Datsyuk ensured there was a different ending to a familiar tale on Saturday night. They both scored in the shootout, and Jonas Gustavsson came through after an up and down night to deny Mason Raymond, helping the Red Wings escape with an improbable 5-4 victory.
It didn’t have to be that difficult. Detroit dominated the first period, bouncing back from a Cody Franson goal to net three straight before the first intermission. First it was Datsyuk, circling the Toronto net and playing a short give-and-go with Riley Sheahan before scoring on the backhand. Joakim Andersson added to the lead with a wraparound that caught Leafs starter James Reimer badly out of position, and Tomas Jurco found himself all alone before he scored his second of the season at the 18:56 mark—a goal that also spelled the end of the night for Reimer, who was lifted for Jonathan Bernier between periods.
That 3-1 lead was gone less than 20 minutes later. Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf ended a lengthy goal drought with a slapshot that found the net 11:45 into the second, while Joffrey Lupul converted on a Leafs power play just under seven minutes later. The Red Wings caught a bad break (no surprise there) when Kyle Quincey took a high stick in the face before the second break and got no call even after a conference by the officials.
Another struggling Leaf gave the hosts a lead 8:32 into the final frame. David Clarkson was credited with the go-ahead goal after a wild goal mouth scramble that ended with Gustavsson’s pad getting knocked back into the puck behind it, sending it over the line. But Tomas Tatar managed to even things up with 6:16 to play, slamming home a rebound of a Jurco shot.
Both teams had chances to end it in overtime, but this game, like so many this year, headed to a shootout. Toronto has been as good there as Detroit has been bad, but James van Reimsdyk missed his shot, and Mason Raymond saw Gustavsson poke the puck away from him on his deke attempt. Alfredsson scored on a confident wrister and Datsyuk used the backhand as he often does, and with just those two shooters, the Wings equaled the number of shootout goals they had all season.
Detroit outshot Toronto in every period and overtime for a 38-23 edge overall. Bernier stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced in relief, while Gustavsson made 19 saves in one of his shakier wins. The Monster did manage to make one of his best saves of the season on Phaneuf, diving back across an open net to stop a shot with his stick after the Leafs d-man had already raised his arms thinking he had scored.
Mike Babcock said after the game that the many injuries to the Red Wings are creating depth, and Saturday proved that to be the case. Both Jurco and Sheahan had two points (Sheahan’s first two of his NHL career), and Detroit’s coach stated that he now feels he can play them against anyone with some confidence.
Even better, Babs said the cavalry will be back at some point as Henrik Zetterberg and the others return to health. That’s an even more pleasant thought than a shootout win.
The game was over when…
The Red Wings didn’t fold. After the first period, the Leafs had the momentum going in their favor, particularly after their fourth goal. But no one stopped hustling, and the team deserved its equalizer. The veterans finally took care of business in the shootout too, with both Alfredsson and Datsyuk doing what they do best.
The unsung Red Wings hero was…
Luke Glendening, who had the least glamorous assignment of the Wings’ young players, but did a fantastic job for the most part against Phil Kessel and his linemates. He also shook off some bumps and bruises, and he had a decent chance to end the game in overtime too.