It’s almost like there was never a two-plus week break in the Detroit Red Wings season.
The last time I was on recap duty on February 6, a game-winning goal from Gustav Nyquist and strong goaltending when it mattered by Jimmy Howard got the Wings a victory. The first post-Olympics game on Wednesday night featured a different script but the same key players as Detroit dominated, then faded, but ultimately triumphed 2-1 in overtime over the Montreal Canadiens.
After a sloppy first few minutes, the Red Wings spent big chunks of the first two periods playing like the team Mike Babcock coached to a gold medal in Sochi. Detroit held the puck often and seemed to be on top of the Canadiens as soon as they took possession, making like miserable for the hosts. The Habs managed just nine shots on Howard through 40 minutes, with just two coming in the second period — the first of which drew a sarcastic cheer from the home fans.
Two players who weren’t in the lineup immediately before the Olympics teamed up to give the Wings a lead that almost held up for the rest of the game. With P.K. Subban off for roughing Darren Helm, Johan Franzen found Todd Bertuzzi with a nifty pass from behind the net, leading to an easy shot from right outside the crease to put Detroit up 1-0 with 5:59 left in the first.
It took until the final frame for Montreal to make things interesting, but they broke through when it mattered most. A ton of pressure with goalie Peter Budaj off for an extra attacker paid off with only 29 seconds left in regulation, as Brian Gionta lifted a backhand from the right circle to send the game to overtime.
And it was an eventful extra period, to say the least. Tomas Tatar took down Subban 1:51 in, but the Canadiens’ star defenseman was also sent to the box for embellishment (leaving his coach Michel Therrien saying a bad word in English that was obvious on TV). That meant 3-on-3 hockey, and the scoring chances came in a flurry. Helm just missed Brendan Smith on a 2-on-1, and only a fantastic play by Andrei Markov prevented Pavel Datsyuk from connecting with Smith on another. Meanwhile, Max Pacioretty was getting his best chances of the game at the other end, forcing some strong saves by Howard.
Ultimately, it was Nyquist who made the big play, something he’s done often over the past five weeks. After bringing the puck all the way from his own end into the offensive zone, he dropped it for Danny DeKeyser, whose shot was deflected on net by Franzen. Nyquist found the rebound and netted his tenth goal in the last 11 games, wrapping things up 28 seconds away from a shootout.
If the Red Wings fail to make the playoffs, they may regret not getting the regulation win since the Canadiens are the team they’re chasing for third place in the Atlantic and a guaranteed postseason berth. But that’s a worry for down the road. For tonight, we shoud just be glad that even though some things definitely changed while the NHL was on hiatus, some postive things definitely haven’t.
The game was over when …
Nyquist got the scoring chance his play deserved. Babcock used him on multiple lines during the game, and he showed some flashes with all of them. The key was that he didn’t give up on the play after making the move that got the Wings into the offensive zone, heading for the net so he was in perfect position to take advantage of the rebound.
The unsung Red Wings hero was …
It’s tempting to say the Kid Line of Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco, but this isn’t a group honor. Let’s give the nod to Helm, who drew the penalty that set up the first goal, did his usual stellar job killing penalties, and made things interesting with his speed during OT.