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Red Wings score late to secure 23rd straight berth

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- The Detroit Red Wings qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday by forcing a shootout against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Detroit tied the game late in the third period before Pittsburgh won 4-3 in a potential Stanley Cup Playoff Eastern Conference First Round preview.

Red Wings forward Riley Sheahan tied the game with 1:15 remaining in the third period, ultimately ensuring Detroit's 23rd consecutive playoff appearance. He slapped a shot past a screen by Tomas Jurco over goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's shoulder.

"It was a pretty good feeling and good to get that point to give us a chance in the playoffs," Sheahan said. "It's unbelievable to help the team any way we can. There's all this talk about the young guys being helpful here but you have to give credit to the older guys for showing us the ropes and playing with leadership, so it's been a lot of fun."

In the third round of the shootout, Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen seemed to lose the puck but tipped it on net and it deflected off goalie Jonas Gustavasson's stick into the net. Fleury made a save on Tomas Tatar to win it after stopping Daniel Alfredsson and Pavel Datsyuk.

Fleury, who made 34 saves in his 39th win, said he would welcome a series against Detroit.

"I think there's no easy team that will make the playoffs," Fleury said. "They play hard, they have some skills. It would be a fun one."

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, in his first game back after being sidelined for 10 weeks after having a stroke, played a critical role in giving Pittsburgh a late lead. Letang carried the puck through the neutral zone past Luke Glendening in Detroit's zone before wristing a shot off Gustavsson. The goalie mishandled it and it bounced behind him before Jokinen tapped it into the net 9:17 into the third period for a 3-2 score.

Letang finished with one assist and two shots in 22:30 of time on ice.

"There are some things I felt good about, some things I have to get my timing back," Letang said.

The Penguins' second-ranked power play scored two goals to tie the game in the second period.

Forward Sidney Crosby carried the puck from the neutral zone through three Red Wings before backhanding a pass to James Neal to his left. Neal deked to his left, causing Gustavsson to lunge in that direction, before dragging the puck around his right pad and roofing a backhand 9:03 into the second.

Detroit regained the lead 5:19 later when Jakub Kindl slapped a shot past Fleury with Sheahan and Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik battling in the crease. Orpik and Fleury seemed to think Sheahan interfered with Fleury, but the goal was allowed.

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said he was pleased with Detroit's compete level.

"We had good contributions from everyone," Babcock said. "We played all our guys and just rolled them out the door. So, it was a good night. We didn't score as many goals as we should have, but I thought we did a good job."

Neal tied the game 2-2 by snapping a shot off of pass from Matt Niskanen through a screen by forward Chris Kunitz with 3:18 left in the second period. The goal was Neal's 26th of the season, 11th on the power play.

"I don't think we were going to analyze the score of the game and project forward if it is a possible playoff matchup," Bylsma said. "We wanted to do certain things in areas of the game and maybe have that be a statement. I think we did that with the power play for sure. It was our power play in the second period that got us back in the game."

The first period was played primarily in Pittsburgh's zone, which lead to a 1-0 lead and 13-4 shot advantage for Detroit.

The Red Wings scored midway through the period after a shot from Alfredsson deflected off of Fleury's left shoulder to the end boards. The puck bounced past Niskanen to the front of the net, where Jurco backhanded it in with 9:19 remaining.

Detroit was credited with the first seven shots, but Pittsburgh forward Brandon Sutter nearly gave the Penguins the lead about 6:00 into the game. Sutter went on a breakaway after skating by a Red Wings defenseman near the boards and got Gustavsson to commit to a fake before attempting a backhand that went off the left post.

The Penguins were outshot 37-24, and Jokinen said they will not be able to have that kind of performance if they expect to advance in the postseason.

"They're a really hard team to play against," Jokinen said. "I think we need to play better. Obviously, [Fleury] is there and it doesn't matter who we're going to play. There are going to be phases in the games where we need our goalie to make saves, but we need to play better than we did tonight."

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