DENVER – Qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs has become a rite of spring for the Detroit Red Wings, who have earned a berth in an NHL-record 21 consecutive seasons.
The Red Wings are in position to extend their streak with 10 regular-season games remaining, but it has been more difficult than usual.
They needed a goal from Pavel Datsyuk – his second of the game -- with 15.4 seconds left in overtime for a 3-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on Friday night to remain in seventh place in the jam-packed Western Conference. The victory kept them one point ahead of the St. Louis Blues, who come to Joe Louis Arena on Sunday.
"It's a big game for us," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "St. Louis has got two games in hand. Plus we always have fun playing against St. Louis."
Datsyuk reached with his stick to poke a loose puck behind Avalanche goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere after Henrik Zetterberg, who earlier in overtime was stopped on a breakaway, passed the puck in front.
"I tried to position for a shot, but I was hooked when I tried to make a move at the net," Datsyuk said. "[Zetterberg] passed to me and I followed the rebound and just jammed it. We needed these points. We have a tough division and the fight for playoffs and we're happy when we finish this way."
Giguere faced six shots in overtime and 31 for the game.
"They were throwing a lot of stuff at the goal," Giguere said of the overtime. "Datsyuk was coming towards me. I made the first save and the puck just went right to his stick. It's an unfortunate way to finish this game, because I thought we played pretty well. We played for the first time in a long time with emotion. We played like we were desperate."
The victory was Detroit's second in the past five games; both have come against the Avalanche, who have lost 11 of their past 13 games and are in last place in the overall standings.
The Avalanche outshot the Red Wings 16-6 in the third period and tied the game 2-2 on a goal by PA Parenteau at 6:29. Parenteau was at the base of the right circle when he redirected Jamie McGinn's diagonal pass behind goalie Jimmy Howard.
Howard survived a barrage by the Avalanche in the final minutes of regulation before Datsyuk's game-winner.
"[The win] was huge," said Howard, who made 33 saves. "We let off the gas there a little in the third, but I think that had a lot to do with [playing two games] in two nights. The key is we found a way to get the two points, a much-needed two points."
The Red Wings took a 2-1 lead in the first period when they sandwiched goals by Datsyuk and Gustav Nyquist around one by Mark Olver, who scored on a breakaway at 11:36 off a pass from David Van Der Gulik.
Nyquist scored 13 seconds later after an Avalanche turnover in their own end. Nyquist skated to the right side of the net and slipped the puck between the post and Giguere's left skate.
"The puck kind of came right to me," Nyquist said. "I just tried to fake the shot and have [Giguere] go down. I tucked it in short side."
Datsyuk was in the slot when he scored on a power play at 8:27 – 32 seconds after Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson went off for interference. Datsyuk completed a pretty passing play with Zetterberg, who controlled the puck along the left-wing boards, and Johan Franzen, who passed to Datsyuk from the left circle.
"It's the story of our year, really," Parenteau said of the loss. "It seems like we can't catch a bounce. This one is heartbreaking."
Red Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey logged 21:40 in ice time and was minus-2 while wearing a full face shield after sitting out nine games with a fractured cheekbone. Another defenseman, Danny DeKeyser, played 16:36 in his NHL debut. A Detroit native, DeKeyser signed as a free agent with the Red Wings on March 30. He played three seasons with Western Michigan University and captained the Broncos this season.
"I liked him," Babcock said of DeKeyser. "He's going to be a good player for a long time. He needs to get comfortable in his own end, but he skates and passes the puck well and he's smart."