Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Magic Number Down to 1 as Detroit Red Wings edge Buffalo Sabres 4-2

The Detroit Red Wings came into Tuesday night’s matchup against the Buffalo Sabres desperately needing two points, which has been the storyline for the past month-and-a-half.

It wasn’t the Red Wings’ best performance of the season, but the magic number for the Red Wings to reach the postseason for a 23rd consecutive time is down to one as Detroit beat the Sabres 4-2 at First Niagara Center.

David Legwand gave the Red Wings a 3-1 lead late in the third period after Drew Miller forced a turnover in the offensive zone, but it turned out to be the game winner. About two minutes later, Zemgus Girgensons used some tricky stick work and made a strong move around Niklas Kronwall and scored on Jimmy Howard to cut the Sabres’ deficit to 3-2.

However, Pavel Datsyuk scored the empty-netter with five seconds remaining as he backhanded a shot from his own blue line, and the puck bounced into the gaping net.

The Red Wings have three remaining games, including matchups against Pittsburgh and St. Louis coming up Wednesday and Sunday, respectively, so getting two points against Buffalo was all the more necessary.

The Red Wings eclipsed two milestones Tuesday as Mike Babcock picked up his 414st career regular season win as a Red Wings coach passing Jack Adams for most in franchise history, and Miller notched his 100th career point on the Legwand goal.

Detroit peppered Matt Hackett with 37 shots, and Howard made a few key saves as he stopped 25 shots and is now 7-3-1 in his past 11 starts.

The game didn’t start as smoothly for the Red Wings as they would have liked. Detroit looked lackadaisical and not at all like a team that needed points to secure a playoff berth, but it took a 0-0 tie into the first intermission.

Who knows if the quiet atmosphere at First Niagara Center lulled the Red Wings into a false sense of security — seriously, you could hear a pin drop in that place — but I can guarantee Babcock wasn’t happy with the effort.

Buffalo broke the scoreless tie early in the second period as Cody Hodgson threw a puck into the slot, which redirected off of Girgensons’ skate to give the Sabres the 1-0 lead.

Buffalo’s goal seemed to energize the Red Wings as they realized they needed to start playing like they wanted to win this game.

Detroit finally got on the scoreboard as Johan Franzen hit Brendan Smith on a rush, and Smith buried it 12:28 into the second period to tie the game 1-1.

On the very next shift, Danny DeKeyser took a holding penalty and Justin Abdelkader took a delay of game penalty, which put the Red Wings on an extended five-on-three penalty kill.

Jimmy Howard was the Red Wings’ best penalty killer, making save after save as Detroit kept the game tied.

At the beginning of the game, the Red Wings had a power play in the first period after Mike Weber got called for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass. Detroit’s power play looked good, sustaining pressure for nearly the entire two minutes but couldn’t convert. The Red Wings had six missed shots in the first period, according to ExtraSkater.com. Detroit finished the game with 24 shots blocked or missed.

Franzen came close on that power play as he rang one off of the post after hitting the crossbar Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens.

Darren Helm gave the Red Wings an early 2-1 lead in the third period as he won an offensive zone faceoff, picked the puck out of a crowd after a Kyle Quincey shot and roofed it on a sprawling Hackett. With that goal, Helm tied his season high of 12 goals from three years ago.

Credit: NHL.com

Credit: NHL.com

The Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Phoenix Coyotes 4-3 on Tuesday, meaning the Blue Jackets remain one point behind the Red Wings in the second wild-card spot.

Tampa Bay beat Toronto 3-0 to eliminate the Maple Leafs from playoff contention.

The Red Wings can clinch a playoff berth with at least one point against the Penguins on Wednesday in what could be a possible first-round playoff preview.

The Red Wings will need a better start against the Penguins than they had against the Sabres if they want to secure that playoff spot. Get that final point early and secure the playoff spot. The Red Wings don’t want to go into their matchup against the Blues on Sunday still needing at least a point.

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