DETROIT – Following his team's morning skate, Barry Trotz talked about how far his Nashville Predators had come from the days when they were a fledgling expansion franchise that was "a little terrified" to come to the Motor City.
Trotz said that back in those days the Detroit Red Wings controlled the puck at will and did just about anything they wanted. The Predators have since gotten adept at fighting back, but got a little flashback to the old days on Saturday night during an impressive 4-1 Red Wings' victory at Joe Louis Arena.
It was Detroit's third game in four days and the second of back-to-back games – following up a hard-fought 3-2 shootout win on the road on Friday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock didn't think it was his team's best all-around effort, but he was pleased with his team's resiliency in a tough stretch.
"Playing Boston, a high-end team, we knew that was going to be a grind, but I thought our guys responded," Babcock said. "Our upper-echelon players (on Friday) were fantastic. Today we got more depth from everybody. Our whole team played better."
As a result, Detroit (14-7-1) dominated in the puck-possession game and it led to the Wings getting a commanding advantage in shots on goal – which finished with Detroit putting 37 shots on Nashville star goalie Pekka Rinne and allowing Jimmy Howard to see just 19 a day after stopping 41 of 43 shots in Boston.
Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg had huge games for the Red Wings – who've now won five straight games for the second time in the season's first 22 contests and were within striking distance of the top spot in the Western Conference before the conclusion of the San Jose Sharks game against the Vancouver Canucks.
To put that in perspective, the Red Wings were only a couple spots away from the bottom of the conference standings just a couple of weeks ago, while mired in a six-game winless skid.
"It's really close and every point is important," said Filppula, who earned first star honors for his two-goals and one assist effort. "As of late, we've been playing pretty well. Getting the wins is the most important thing, but if we keep playing like this, we have a good chance of winning games."
Filppula's linemate, Zetterberg, also finished with a 3-point game. He scored for just the second time in the last 10 games and assisted on both of Filppula's goals to help Detroit build a 3-0 lead after two periods. Danny Cleary also scored his fourth of the season 4:03 into the third to make it 4-0 and effectively put the game out of reach.
Nashville defenseman Jack Hillen's first goal of the season finally got the Predators (10-8-4) on the scoreboard at 5:34 of the third off a deflection in front of the crease, but it too little and much too late.
"We came out and had a good first period and that's what we wanted to do," Zetterberg said. "We had a tough game (on Friday) and we just wanted to play as much as possible in their end and I think we did that in the first. After that we just kept going."
Detroit started to inflict the damage not long after killing off an early Nashville power play in the first that featured several chances for the Preds, but just one shot that got through. Afterward, the Wings took a 1-0 lead on Filppula's sixth goal at the 13:23 mark on a power play – the fifth game in a row Nashville has allowed a goal a man down.
That goal highlighted an impressive period for Detroit that saw the Wings outshoot Nashville 14-3. After a shot by Todd Bertuzzi from the side of the goal slid underneath Rinne and went out the other side, Filppula scooped the puck and fired it home with a nice backhander over the prone Rinne.
The Wings also got it done in the defensive zone, with Howard continuing his solid play and defenseman Brad Stuart keeping a puck from crossing the goal line with his stick after the puck hopped over Howard's pad.
"We had a good first power play, weren't able to score but had a really good power play," Trotz said. "Then we took a penalty and it sort of changed the momentum, which in 'The Joe,' it usually does. They fire a lot of pucks and then the second period we just spent way too much time in our end."
That's when the Wings pushed their lead to 3-0 on Zetterberg's fifth goal of the season and Filppula's seventh and second of the game. Zetterberg's made it 2-0 just 1:31 into the period after he grabbed the puck to the left of the goal, spun and waited until Rinne dropped before firing a shot into the upper left corner of the net.
Seven minutes later, Filppula got his stick on a puck in the low slot that had already been deflected once by Jiri Hudler, which sent it sliding past Rinne. As that play developed, Nashville's Jordin Tootoo skated up the ice behind the play asking for a fight from Stuart, who'd just put a big hit on him.
Stuart, seeing the play develop in the offensive zone, wisely declined the invitation and watched the puck go past Rinne. The Wings held a remarkable 25-8 margin in shots heading into the third and controlled the puck for long stretches –which led to Cleary's goal off a one-time feed by Darren Helm to make it 4-0 early in the third.
Hillen's deflection then erased Howard's shutout bid. That plus a scary incident involving forward Patrick Eaves getting hit in the right ear with a slap shot were the only real negatives for Detroit.
Eaves got hit with just 2:14 left by a slap shot fired from the blue line by Nashville rookie Roman Josi – who made his NHL debut. Eaves immediately fell to the ice on his back before being helped onto a stretcher and carted off.
Red Wings officials said he was taken to Detroit Medical Center for further treatment but had no update on his condition immediately after the game. Eaves was playing for the first time in five games, as he'd been a healthy scratch since playing a Nov.15 against the St Louis Blues.
"He was cut either around his ear or in the ear and he was in a lot of pain when he was down there," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "So, it was good to see him go to the hospital right away to get that checked out."