Jiri Hudler scored the game-tying goal at 5:30 of the third period and scored the deciding goal in the shootout as the Detroit Red Wings ended a mini two-game losing streak by clipping the visiting Florida Panthers 2-1 at the Joe Louis Arena.
With the win, the Red Wings have repossession of fourth place in the Western Conference standings with 99 points and are one point ahead of the idle Nashville Predators. The sixth place Chicago Blackhawks could move into a tie with the Red Wings if they win their home game against the Minnesota Wild later tonight.
Jimmy Howard made 27 saves for his first win since March 2. The only goal he gave up was the one he probably should have stopped when Tomas Fleischmann got a cross-ice pass from Kris Versteeg and ripped a one-timer from the top of the right faceoff circle. Howard got a piece of it, but the puck trickled in as the Panthers took a 1-0 lead.
The night belonged to the goaltenders as Howard and his counterpart, Scott Clemmensen were stopping pucks along the way. While Howard was protecting the Red Wings net, Clemmensen was equally as good by stopping 31 shots for the Panthers.
Hudler tied the game when he fired a shot from the right circle and it went off a couple of Panthers’ players and past Clemmensen to make it 1-1. It was Hudler’s 25th goal of the season, which is also a career high set in a season.
It looked as if the Panthers were going to re-claim the lead when Kyle Quincey was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for elbowing Tomas Kopecky. The Red Wings’ successfully killed off the penalty as they allowed only one shot on goal. Special thanks to Dmitry Kulikov, who was sent to the penalty box for tripping during Quincey’s penalty.
The Red Wings had their best chances to win the game in third period when they put some pressure on the Panthers defense and Clemmensen, who was up to the task by stopping 15 shots in the final stanza. It remained 1-1 after 60 minutes, but with only three shots between the two clubs in overtime, the game had to be settled in a shootout.
In the first round of the shootout, Clemmensen stuck out his stick, thinking poke check, but Datsyuk shot the puck, beating the Panthers’ goalie. Wojtek Wolski evened it up when he scored to tie it at 1-1.
Hudler scored to make it 2-1 in the second round with a wrist shot from the middle of the slot and Howard shut the door on Mikael Samuelsson. With Todd Bertuzzi failing to clinch the game, Howard faced Versteeg, who failed at his chance, giving the Red Wings a much-needed two points in the standings.
The win should give the Red Wings an extra boost of confidence as they head into the final week of the regular season. Despite the lone goal that he gave up, Jimmy Howard was solid and if there was a person who needed the win, it was him.
After a subpar performance on Friday, Jonathan Ericsson responded with a strong game on defense, but don’t let the -1 rating against the Panthers fool you. Guvstav Nyquist was on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen and showed why he’s got “top-six forward” written all over him. Imagine the duo of Nyquist and Datsyuk on the ice together; they can cause goalies nightmares in the next few years. That is only if head coach Mike Babcock puts them on the ice together.
Speaking of Datsyuk, he showed why he’s arguably the best all-around hockey player in the world. He almost decided the game late in the third period when he showed some wizardly-like moves from behind the Panthers’ net by flipping the puck over the net and into the front of the goal. Nicklas Lidstrom was the first to get to the puck, but was denied by Clemmensen. Imagine if that decided the game?! That would have been an automatic lock for goal of the year.
If there’s a player who needs to step up it is Johan Franzen, who had two shots on goal and has gone scoreless over his last four games. He’s got to remember he’s not shooting pucks on a Dodge Ram, but on NHL goaltenders. If there’s a player who can’t afford to get into a slump, especially at this time of year, it’s the “Mule.”
Speaking of stepping up, Ian White was a healthy scratch, which is a rarity, and was replaced by Kyle Quincey. Let’s hope this is a wake-up call for White, who looked like he was just skating around on Friday night against the Panthers.
The fight for fourth place in the West might not be decided until the final day of the regular season. The Red Wings have three games left and it’s important for them to win each of them, but it won’t be easy. Their final three games are against St. Louis, New Jersey and Chicago with the final two games on home ice.
The Red Wings’ next game is Wednesday night as they head into St. Louis and face the Blues at the Scottrade Center.
About the Author: Alex lives in Hockeytown, USA. He is a huge Red Wings fan going back to the 1985-86 season when they were dead last with 40 points. He has seen the transition from the 'Dead Wings' to one of the top franchises in sports. You can also follow him at twitter.com/alexmuscat73.