Forget buzzer beaters in college hoops. The Detroit Red Wings got one against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday night that very well might turn out to be the difference between continuing their long playoff streak or missing the postseason for the first time in more than two decades.
In a wild, roller coaster ride of a game that served as a microcosm of the entire 2013-14 season, the outcome literally came down to the final second. A 3-on-1 rush ended with a Daniel Alfredsson shot bouncing off Pittsburgh’s Rob Scuderi and past Marc-Andre Fleury with 0.4 seconds left to give the Red Wings one of their most dramatic victories in recent memory.
That it even made it to that point was improbable, to say the least. A retaliatory butt-ending call on David Legwand right after he had been tied up with Evgeni Malkin gave the Penguins a five-minute power play with less than four minutes left in regulation. Despite a long stretch of possession toward the end of the third period, great goaltending by Jimmy Howard and a clutch blocked shot by Cory Emmerton sent things to overtime still tied 4-4.
The Penguins still had over a minute of 4-on-3 time in the extra frame, but James Neal‘s shot after playing catch multiple times with Malkin was the best they cold muster, and Howard stopped that too. Alfredsson had a chance from right in front of the net with just over a minute to play, but his miss there didn’t matter, as his shot or pass in the waning moments ricocheted off Scuderi for the game-winner.
Alfredsson also opened the scoring in the first period, way before the first of multiple momentum swings began. Gustav Nyquist added his 20th tally of the season on the power play at the 4:35 mark of the second, and the Red Wings had several chances to add to their lead on the power play in a whistle-filled middle frame.
They’d end up regretting not cashing in, because things turned bad against them in a hurry. Lee Stempniak and Malkin scored goals for Pittsburgh just 25 seconds apart, and Malkin fired a laser past Howard through a Chris Kunitz screen to put the visitors up 3-2 on a 5-on-3 power play with 2:02 left in the second.
It stayed that way until midway through the third period, when a controversial call went in Detroit’s favor. Twenty seconds after a penalty on Brendan Smith, Neal was called for interference for swatting a dropped Red Wings stick away. The rule states a penalty will not be called if the dropped stick wasn’t interfering with play or the stickless player wasn’t trying to retrieve it, and it wasn’t clear either of those conditions apply.
Nevertheless, the Red Wings took advantage during the 4-on-4, with Riley Sheahan making a sweet pass to a hard-charging Tomas Tatar for his 15th goal at the 9:59 mark, and Todd Bertuzzi was credited with the go-ahead goal 2:18 later when he simply fired a puck on net from the boards and it bounced off a Penguin and in.
The Pens’ Craig Adams ended a long goalless drought after Brandon Sutter found him all alone in front of Howard with 5:43 left in regulation, setting the stage for the breathtaking conclusion to follow.
Pittsburgh out-shot Detroit 43-30 on the game, with 16 of those shots coming on the power play. Howard was justifiably named the game’s third star for his 39-save performance, none bigger than his sprawling deflection of a Sutter breakaway in the third period. Nyquist’s goal was his 15th since January 20, tops in the NHL.
After the Red Wings players and fans have a chance to catch their breath, they’re going to realize there’s still plenty of work to do to make the playoffs. Columbus and Philadelphia both won on Thursday night, meaning Detroit is still on the outside looking in. As huge as the victory over the Penguins was, the next game against the Minnesota Wild is just as crucial.
For the sake of everyone’s hearts, maybe the Wings want to win that one a little easier.
The game was over when …
The Red Wings got the puck down the ice in time for Alfredsson’s goal to count. The game-winner was the third Detroit goal of the night to bounce in off a Pittsburgh player, proof that the old adage about never knowing what can happen when you throw the puck toward the net is alive and well. Nyquist occupied Scuderi so he couldn’t pay attention to the puck, and there wasn’t anything Fleury could do about the resulting deflection.
The unsung Red Wings hero was …
I almost gave this to Kyle Quincey before remembering he was partly responsible for leaving Adams by himself on the game-tying goal. So instead, I turn to Luke Glendening, who easily led all Detroit forwards in shorthanded ice time, was out there for some key face-offs, and came ever so close to his first NHL goal when he crashed the net on Bertuzzi’s tally.