If the Detroit Red Wings want to keep their enviable streak of consecutive playoff appearances going, the Florida Panthers are the type of team they really need to beat.
That had proven difficult earlier in the season, with the Panthers winning three of the first four meetings between the two teams. On Thursday night, the difference was a hot goal-scorer and an in-form goalie—and fortunately, both of them were wearing the winged wheel. Gustav Nyquist continued his torrid play with the game-winner, and Jimmy Howard turned away a late charge by the home team to ensure the Red Wings left Sunrise with a 3-1 victory.
Early on, it looked like the Panthers might simply have the Wings’ number again. Detroit outshot Florida 11-2 in the opening frame, but Scottie Upshall made the hosts’ lone scoring chance count, beating Howard on a breakaway with just seconds left before the first break.
The power play provided the answer, perhaps not a big surprise against Florida’s 30th-ranked penalty kill. With Brian Campbell in the box for tripping, Justin Abdelkader was able to cause some havoc in front of the net, and a puck that kicked out to the right of Tim Thomas became an easy conversion for Daniel Alfredsson at the 6:30 mark of the second period.
Then it was Nyquist time, just like it’s been for several weeks. After Howard made a pair of nice saves, the Goose went coast-to-coast before lifting a shot over Thomas’ right shoulder for his ninth goal in as many games.
The Panthers were able to kill off a double minor to Tomas Kopecky late in the second, and they turned up the pressure considerably in the third. Howard was called upon often, with his biggest stop coming against noted Red Wings killer Sean Bergenheim (four goals in four previous games against Detroit this season) with under five minutes to play.
Florida also got a much-needed chance with the man advantage after Brian Lashoff buried Jonathan Huberdeau with a cross-check at the 17:34 mark. Thomas left the net to make it 6-on-4, and after some more nice work from Howard, Lashoff left the box just in time to collect Darren Helm‘s errant attempt at an empty-netter and walk in an insurance goal—his first in an eyebrow-raising 81 games.
Just looking at the box score, it will probably look like a routine win, but they never are against the Panthers for whatever reason. The Red Wings now have a chance to finish off their pre-Olympic slate with three straight wins if they can take care of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. If Nyquist and Howard can stay hot, you have to like their chances.
The game was over when…
Thomas displayed a moment of weakness. The 39-year old Flint native stood on his head both before and after the second Detroit goal, but with all due respect to how hot the Goose has been of late, the shot Nyquist took on the rush looked like it surprised Thomas a bit. It was one he’d probably like to have back, especially since the Red Wings didn’t score again until the empty-netter.
The unsung Red Wings hero was…
Since he rarely ever qualifies for this honor, I’ll give it to Pavel Datsyuk. Back in the lineup after missing 14 games to injury, he played just 13:34 and was a minus-one, but he showed flashed of his usual playmaking brilliance. Honestly, it was just good to see him back on the ice.