Nyquist scored his 27th goal Sunday in a 3-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Joe Louis Arena and the Red Wings won each half of a back-to-back set this weekend.
It was Nyquist's second goal in as many games, 22nd in the past 27 games and 11th in the past nine. The Red Wings (84 points) are 5-3-1 in that nine-game stretch and surged into the Eastern Conference's first wild-card spot ahead of the idle Columbus Blue Jackets (82 points).
"I'm trying to play my game out there like I've always been playing it," Nyquist said. "The coaching staff here has helped me a lot to think about different things and one of those things is to shoot the puck a little bit more to create more offense. When the puck goes in, your confidence grows and you feel more comfortable out there. It's nice."
Joakim Andersson and David Legwand also scored for the Red Wings (35-27-14), who received a strong performance in net by Jonas Gustavsson (26 saves). Gustavsson picked up the win in his first action since March 7 against the New Jersey Devils and made several outstanding saves.
The Red Wings also got another lineup regular back from injury Sunday with the return of Justin Abdelkader. The rugged forward finished with four shots on goal and three hits, while another recent returner to the lineup, center Darren Helm, impacted the game with his speed and aggressiveness.
Helm extended his point streak to three games with an assist on Andersson's goal and his presence is a reminder of just how much the Red Wings are missing some talented players. While they appear headed in the right direction with seven games left in the regular season, Detroit is still without its top forwards, captain Henrik Zetterberg and center Pavel Datsyuk.
Each plan to rejoin the fray in the postseason, if not sooner in Datsyuk's case, and it's starting to look like things might come together just in the nick of time for the Red Wings.
"You want to be rolling when you get into the playoffs and that's our goal ... to be rolling when we get into the playoffs," Legwand said. "That's what you saw a couple years ago with [the Los Angeles Kings]. They got hot at the right time and kind of rolled right through playoffs, so we want to get hot and keep playing well and keep doing the right things."
The loss snapped a string of 11 straight games with at least a point for the Lightning (41-25-9), who'd gone 7-0-4 during that stretch. Former Red Wings forward Valtteri Filppula and defenseman Sami Salo scored goals for Tampa Bay, with Filppula extending his point streak to 12 straight games.
Ben Bishop (27 saves) took the loss after starting each end of a back-to-back set, but gave credit to Nyquist on a memorable goal scored with 4:36 left in the first period to give Detroit a 2-1 lead.
After taking a pass from Legwand at center ice, the shifty 5-foot-11, 185-pound forward started to break free and drew a penalty by eluding Lightning defenseman Matt Carle's grasp. He kept his balance and deked Bishop to the ice with a backhand shot off the rush. Seconds later, after collecting the rebound, Nyquist whirled around and sent the puck into the net off the far post.
"[Carle] was just all over him and [Nyquist] kind of knocked the puck into the corner," Bishop said. "He just did a nice job of sticking with it and did a little spin-o-rama, I guess, and it went off the far post and in. So, it was a nice second effort by him. Good player."
Asked if there was anything else he could've done, Bishop's answer summed up what's made Nyquist so dangerous.
"Looking back on it, there probably was, but you don't really think he's going to get it and just spin around like that," Bishop said. "He made a nice play."
The goal extended Nyquist's point streak to nine games, which is Detroit's longest since an 11-game streak by Henrik Zetterberg during the 2010-11 season. It also pulled him within three goals of becoming the first Red Wings 30-goal scorer since 2008-09, when they had four players reach that plateau.
Filppula's goal put Detroit behind first for the fourth straight game thanks to a costly turnover. After scooping a loose puck in the offensive zone, Filppula rifled a wrist shot from the slot that beat Gustavsson 8:40 into the game over the right pad.
The only difference from the previous three games was how long it took to respond.
Andersson scored less than three minutes later to tie it up 1-1 at 11:08 with his eighth goal and the Red Wings got a lift from it. They controlled the puck more and wound up with a 12-6 advantage in shots after the opening period.
More importantly, they held a 2-1 lead.
Tampa Bay closed the gap in shots in the second, aided by two unsuccessful power plays, but Detroit widened its lead to 3-1 on Legwand's power-play goal with 3:24 left in the period. He got his stick on a shot from the point by Johan Franzen and Bishop couldn't stop it. That turned out to be the goal that decided the game.
Gustavsson played a key role at the other end by stopping all 13 shots the Lightning put on goal in the second, including back-to-back attempts by defenseman Mark Barberio that could've tied the game at 8:00.
The Red Wings killed off two more Tampa Bay power plays in the third to keep their lead intact until Salo scored at 15:31 to make things interesting right to the end.
"I thought we played our best game in a long time, for a full, solid 60 minutes," Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. "We obviously didn't get the result we wanted, but that was a pretty good atmosphere and a pretty good pace to the game. That's what it's going to be like from here on out. We played a good hockey team tonight that's playing for their hockey lives and it showed. They played desperate and I thought we answered the bell."
The win was the 411th for coach Mike Babcock with the Red Wings, which moved him past legendary former coach Scotty Bowman into second in franchise history. He's two away from tying Jack Adams for the top spot.
"Scotty should be in a class by himself," Babcock said of the NHL's all-time leader in career wins. "It's not like I wanted to pass Scott Bowman, but I'm honored. He's a good friend of mine. I'm honored I get to talk about him here. We haven't been as good lately, but we're grinding and finding ways to win games, so let's keep going."
|Valtteri Filppula (25) Wrist shot - ASST: NONE|
1 - 0 TBL
|Joakim Andersson (8) Backhand shot - ASST: Darren Helm (7), Daniel Alfredsson (28)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Gustav Nyquist (27) Wrist shot - ASST: David Legwand (36)|
2 - 1 DET
|PPG - David Legwand (13) Tip-in - ASST: Johan Franzen (22), Niklas Kronwall (38)|
3 - 1 DET
|Sami Salo (4) Slapshot - ASST: Nikita Kucherov (9)|
3 - 2 DET
|Radko Gudas Hi-sticking against Gustav Nyquist|
|Kyle Quincey Holding against Valtteri Filppula|
|Brendan Smith Cross checking against J.T. Brown|
|Alex Killorn Holding against Darren Helm|
|Brendan Smith Tripping against J.T. Brown|
|David Legwand Too many men/ice - bench|
|Victor Hedman Delaying Game-Puck over glass|