Even with the Detroit Red Wings playing clutch hockey down the stretch for the second straight season, few of the wins are coming easy. Even when the opponents are the lowly and banged up Buffalo Sabres, as they were on Friday night on Joe Louis Arena, they seem to stick around and make things tense all the way until the clock hits all zeroes.
Detroit raced out to an early 3-0 lead but also played sloppy hockey at times. That led to some nervous moments in the third period, but the Red Wings held on and captured two vital points with a 3-2 victory.
Everything was going the hosts’ way in the first 20 minutes. Darren Helm opened the scoring 5:47 in, finding himself all alone in front after Luke Glendening collected a bouncing puck and fed him by the Buffalo net for his 11th goal of the season. Tomas Jurco padded Detroit’s lead on the power play, deflecting a Danny DeKeyser point shot by Buffalo goalie Matt Hackett at the 14:12 mark, and Daniel Alfredsson added another 1:16 later by converting a rebound of a Jakub Kindl shot.
The Red Wings out-shot the Sabres in every period, but there was still a feeling that the visitors could get themselves back into the game with a single goal. It came at 12:28 of the second period, when the 29th-ranked Buffalo power play needed just 11 seconds of a Brendan Smith high sticking minor for Jamie McBain to fire high over the blocker of Jimmy Howard to pull his team back to 3-1 down.
The largely anonymous Buffalo skaters kept grinding away, and after Hackett made big saves on Helm and DeKeyser in the third, they made it a game with 13:20 remaining in regulation. Rookie Nicholas Deslauriers scored his first NHL goal, leaving the Red Wings holding on for dear life fo the rest of the game.
Pavel Datsyuk, back in the lineup for the first time since February 27, made an uncharacteristic bad decision by icing the puck with Hackett on the bench in the final minute. But after a Detroit timeout to settle things down, the Sabres had no real quality chances to tie things up, and the 3-2 score held up.
Howard didn’t play as spectacularly as he did against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, but his 21 saves were enough to get the win. Alfredsson and DeKeyser each had two points for the Red Wings, who managed to win on a rare (at least of late) pointless night for Gustav Nyquist.
All told, this was one of those “have to play better” games, especially with Detroit traveling to face the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. At this point, though, two points are two points, particularly on a night that saw the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals both go down to defeat.
In other words, it may not have been pretty on the ice, but it’ll look pretty good in the standings.
The game was over when …
The Red Wings found the back of the net three times in the first period. A two-goal lead is always the scariest, but three did the trick. Detroit skaters also hit the post several times, so it could have been a bigger lead, but all that mattered Friday was that it was big enough to hold up.
The unsung Red Wings hero was …
Niklas Kronwall had a quiet game, but that’s the definition of unsung, right? He dished out three hits, blocked three shots and logged time on both special teams units even though he did not register a point and was even in plus/minus. Datsyuk gets honorable mention here just because it was so great to see him back on the ice.