Another night in which the Detroit Red Wings were outplayed for a significant portion of a game at Joe Louis Arena has come and gone -- yet still, the winning streak at the Joe goes on.
This time, it was more about the "how" than the actual win itself that sent fans to the exit still buzzing afterward.
Detroit's NHL record streak for consecutive home victories is alive and well at 22 games thanks to a pretty play capped by Pavel Datsyuk's 16th goal – which he scored with just 5.8 seconds left in regulation during Friday night's 2-1 victory against the Nashville Predators.
Crisp passes by two other Detroit stars – captain Nicklas Lidstrom and forward Henrik Zetterberg – set it up, with Datsyuk getting the puck with a head of steam entering the offensive zone. After stickhandling around Ryan Suter in the slot, the Russian superstar pulled the puck to his forehand and lasered a wrister from between the circle over Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne's shoulder for the win.
"(Suter) was in a tough situation," said Datsyuk, whose goal gave Zetterberg his 600th career point in a game that he played through a lower-body injury that nearly kept him out. "I wanted to go forward and [Suter] wanted to go forward. [Zetterberg] made a good play. Perfect pass. When I jumped on the side, I knew I had to shoot because I didn't know how much time was left."
There was enough left to win the game, obviously -- and that's all that mattered to the Red Wings and their deliriously happy fans. By winning, the Red Wings also matched the streak of 22 straight home wins by the Boston Bruins of 1929-30 and '30-31, which is the longest multi-season stretch in NHL history.
Detroit will try for win No. 23 in a row on Sunday against the San Jose Sharks – who've had the Wings' number of late, even in this building.
All Detroit (40-17-2) seems to care about right now, however, is staying on top of the Central Division, Western Conference and League standings. Thanks to Datsyuk's magic, they pushed their point total to 82 for the season and forced the West's second-place team, the Vancouver Canucks, to keep pace. The Canucks were off Friday; they host Toronto on Saturday.
Datsyuk also picked up an assist on Detroit's first goal, which was scored by Johan Franzen to give the Wings a 1-0 lead 12:44 into the game. After falling down near the boards in the offensive zone, Datsyuk zipped a backhand pass to Todd Bertuzzi, who found Franzen in the low slot for a shot that beat Rinne (29 saves) between the pads.
Are the Wings still surprised at times by the stuff Datsyuk does?
"Yeah, you are," said Zetterberg, who was moved from center of the second line to Datsyuk's left wing on the top line in the third for the first time in months. "You see him in practice too, doing things, and all of a sudden he does them in games and pulls them off. He makes big goals and big plays, and it's fun to see. We'll probably see more things, too."
It wasn't just a pretty play by Datsyuk that won it, though. The final scoring play started with a nice backhand pass by Lidstrom to Zetterberg off a bouncing puck in the neutral zone – in a game that Lidstrom took a shot by Mike Fisher off the inner portion of his left ankle early in the third and left the game for a few minutes.
Lidstrom said he wasn't too concerned about the aching ankle lingering; instead, he let the memorable finish do the lingering for him.
"You know it's not a whole lot left on the clock, so you just try to get it up quick to one of our guys," Lidstrom said of his pass. "Pav was timing it perfectly, too. He came with speed and the D couldn't really close the gap on him and I think that's why Pav could make that move on him."
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, while unimpressed by his team's effort for much of the game, was relieved to have his stars deliver yet another win to keep Detroit on top of the League standings.
"They were good players in [at] the end," Babcock said. "Nick didn't clean the puck off. He got it right up. [Zetterberg] checked his shoulder before he got it and Pavel did the rest. That's what good players do."
That's what good teams who are scorching hot in their own building do, as well. Nashville was just the latest team to find that out the hard way. Nick Spaling found the back of the net for the Predators' lone goal, scored late in the second, but they also had some prime scoring chances go by the wayside – including two breakaways by Martin Erat.
A great stick-lift by Detroit defenseman Ian White thwarted the first one not long before Franzen scored in the first period to make it 1-0. Wings goalie Joey MacDonald (20 saves) made his best stop of the night to nix the second one – which happened late in the second, just moments before Spaling scored off a turnover in the Detroit end to tie it.
Nashville came into the game with a stellar 13-2-2 record against Central Division opponents, but the Preds have now lost three of four against the Red Wings – including two during Detroit's home win streak.
"It does hurt," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "You lost a point for sure, and maybe two. I thought we played a pretty decent game. We had some breakaway chances, couldn't bury it."
Then there was that play at the end.
"You've just got to manage the game," Trotz said. "Fifteen seconds to go, the most dangerous guy on the ice. You knew that puck's going to him somewhere. Just play him straight up. You've just got to be aware of where he is and be a little tighter to him. Haul him down. Do something."
Rinne was equally disappointed. Was there anything he could've done to stop Datsyuk in that situation?
"Yeah, there is," he said. "To make the save … but he made a good shot. He had good speed and a partial breakaway and just put the game away. It was a pretty nice effort from him."
1 - 0 DET
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 DET
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