|Teemu Pulkkinen scored his first career NHL goal Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena. The first-period goal gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead over the Minnesota Wild. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings) |
DETROIT – In his ninth career game, on his ninth shot on goal of the season, Teemu Pulkkinen became just the third Finnish player to add his name to the Red Wings’ scoring roll.
“I was waiting for six games now so it was good to get that,” Pulkkinen said. “Obviously it was a great pass from Weisser. I kind of had an easy job there because I was in the middle and I just shoot it.”
Pulkkinen energized the Red Wings and the 170th consecutive sold-out crowd inside Joe Louis Arena with a Howitzer of a shot that evaded Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk.
Pulkkinen, who was recalled from AHL Grand Rapids on Jan. 9, helped jumpstart the Red Wings goal-scoring bonanza leading to a three-goal cushion through two periods for the home team.
“Guys are stronger and bigger,” said Pulkkinen of the difference between the NHL and AHL. “The D knows how to play good defense, where to block the shots and where to be when the guy is trying to shoot. This time I had a good open lane there in the middle. So I’m happy.”
Despite a near third-period catastrophe – the Wild scored three times to force overtime – the Wings managed to salvage a 5-4 shootout victory on goals by Pavel Datsyuk and Gustav Nyquist in the skills competition.
Goalie Petr Mrazek made 26 saves, as well as stopping Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu in the shootout to stretch his season record to 9-3-1.
The Red Wings enter the NHL All-Star break on a five-game winning streak, something they haven’t done since Feb. 2012. With 63 points, the Wings are tied with the New York Islanders and just one point behind Tampa Bay atop of the Eastern Conference.
“It’s always nice to have five wins in a row and continue that,” Mrazek said. “We have a break now to get the energy back and be ready for Tuesday.”
Detroit opens the second half of the season with a two-game road trip to Florida and Tampa Bay beginning next Tuesday against the Panthers.
Stephen Weiss, who assisted on Pulkkinen’s goal, retrieved the keepsake for his linemate.
“It just clicked for me that it might be his first goal, so I went to grab the puck, but he still had a big smile by the time I got back there,” Weiss said. “Anytime you can factor in on someone’s first goal is pretty special. Everyone remembers those.
“We’ve been trying to get him one here for a few games. He’s had some good chances. To see one go in is huge and it takes some weight off his shoulders. He scores a ton in GR and it’s nice to get one up here for sure, and to factor in on it is special.”
Weiss made a beautiful backhand pass from the right wing to Pulkkinen who gained speed as he crossed the blue line and blistered a shot from the left of the right face-off circle.
Chances are Wild Dubnyk, who may have been screened by his own defenseman, Christian Folin, never saw the shot, which gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead at 9:09 of the first period.
Pulkkinen is just the third Finnish-born player to score a goal for the Red Wings. The others were Valtteri Filppula (100) and Ville Leino (9).
While most of his Wings’ teammates will leave for warm-weather destinations on Wednesday, the rookie will return to Grand Rapids where he will play three AHL games with the Griffins before heading to the AHL All-Star Game in Utica, N.Y. on Monday.
“Obviously he’s got some things to learn,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We’re going to send him down. He’s going to play in the All-Star Game. (Griffins coach Jeff Blashill) knows exactly what he needs to work on. He adds that dimension of being able to shoot the puck, he’s tenacious. He should be able to play in the National Hockey League. We just got to fix some things.”