DETROIT - So this is what it’s like when the Detroit Red Wings lose a game at Joe Louis Arena.
It had been so long since it last happened – 112 days ago, on Nov. 3 against Calgary to be exact -- that Wings' fans probably forgot what it feels like to head for the parking lot wondering what else their favorite team could’ve done better to keep their NHL record home-winning streak alive.
It took an epic effort in a classic regular-season game that ended in a shootout, but the Vancouver Canucks ended Detroit’s record home winning streak at 23 games with a 4-3 victory Thursday night -- and reminded everybody in the process that the Wings actually can lose a game at "the Joe."
"As the game went on, I think guys started to realize what was at stake -- it was up for grabs,” said Canucks forward Daniel Sedin, who scored a pair of goals and tied the game 3-3 with just 15.4 seconds left in regulation. "First period, we outshot them pretty badly. They came back, but we kept playing and came back on them."
That pretty much sums up the entire third period -- a see-saw battle that started with a goal by newly-acquired Detroit defenseman Kyle Quincey to put the Wings up 2-1 in his first game back with the team that originally selected him in the 2003 NHL Draft. Quincey was dealt back to the Red Wings on Tuesday in a three-team deal that involved the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning.
But the happy homecoming story was foiled by Cody Hodgson about seven minutes after his own goal -- which he roofed into the top left corner from the slot just 6:08 into the third for his 16th of the season. He fired through traffic and had his shot deflect off Niklas Kronwall’s skate in front of Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard into the net.
That tied it 2-2 with 6:34 left in the third, but the dramatic momentum swings were far from over.
The Red Wings countered on their next shift, when a hard rush to the net resulted in Justin Abdelkader’s seventh goal of the season, which he tapped home with the puck resting in the blue paint just 20 seconds after Hodgson’s marker.
Just like that, Detroit was back up 3-2 and appeared poised to steal yet another home victory despite getting outplayed for a large portion of the game – depending on solid defense and great goaltending by Howard to keep the Canucks from running away with it early.
Things appeared headed for win No. 24 straight in this building, but the Sedin twins had other ideas.
They’d already combined to tie the game 1-1 late in the second during 4-on-4 action when Henrik Sedin got his stick on a shot by Alexander Edler and tipped the puck to Daniel – who shoveled it past Howard from the front of the crease.
With time running out in the third and Luongo on the bench for the extra attacker, they did it again to deflate the building and send the game to overtime. This time, Henrik sent a pass out to Daniel near the blue line – where he launched a shot that Howard couldn’t stop while being screened in front by Burrows and a maze of his own teammates.
In OT, Howard came up big with five saves and Roberto Luongo matched with four of his own to force the shootout. Burrows scored the only goal in the tiebreaker, beating Howard with a deke and a high backhander after Luongo stopped all three Detroit attempts -- and the Canucks instantly became the answer to a trivia question.
"It’s nice to come in this building and end that streak," Burrows said. "It’s a remarkable streak. At the same time, you want to measure yourself against the top teams in the League. For us to come in here and play well and show that we can beat them means a lot. But there’s a lot of work ahead. If we face them in the playoffs, it will start 0-0."
Both Sedins finished with two points on the evening to lead the way offensively for Vancouver (39-16-6), which now trails Detroit by just one point in the Western Conference and has a game in hand. Luongo picked up his 26th win by making 33 saves and prevailing in the shootout – which he’s developed a reputation of disliking because of past struggles.
This time, he was on top of his game and celebrated after Burrows scored by doing a pronounced victory glide near his own blue line -- putting the exclamation mark on a big victory.
"It was a great game," Luongo said. "We knew coming in it was going to be one of those. Any time we play these guys -- that’s the type of hockey it is. It was really exciting that we were able to tie it up there in the last few seconds, especially after we’d tied it up and let them score a few seconds after."
Did it classify as special, even though it was just one of 82 regular-season games?
"Yeah, it was," Luongo said. "The Boston one was nice, too. Those are emotional games and we’re used to those. They’re always fun to be part of."
It wasn’t nearly as fun for the Red Wings, who knew they were close to extending their mark.
Abdelkader (one goal, one assist) and Darren Helm (a goal and two assists) led the way offensively for Detroit (41-18-3), while Howard made 40 saves for his second straight tough loss after returning from a fractured finger that kept him out eight games.
Vancouver outshot Detroit 17-5 in the first period and the Wings didn’t get into double-digits in shots until the midway point of the second had passed. The Wings picked up the pace considerably in the third, but it still wasn’t up to coach Mike Babcock’s expectations.
"We got outshot (17-5) in the first, and Howie did a good job for us just to survive the first," Babcock said. "As the game went on, we got better. They dominated in the overtime and then won in the shootout. We can skate way better than this."
For certain, it wasn’t the Wings’ finest performance in their second game without star center Pavel Datsyuk – who’s expected to miss at two to three weeks after undergoing minor knee surgery on Tuesday. Still, they were in position to keep the remarkable streak alive right to the very end – and still haven’t been beaten in regulation on home ice since the Nov. 3 loss that sparked the run.
"It's beyond impressive," Babcock said of the Wings' 23-game streak in their own building. "I don't care what era and I'm not comparing it to anything. It's a real good run for the Red Wings, and we're real thrilled to have done it. It's set us up to be in a real good situation playoff-wise. Now we've got to get back to skating."
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