|Erik Cole registered his third goal since joining the Red Wings in a March 1 trade, tying Sunday's game against the St. Louis Blues, in the third period. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings) |
DETROIT – Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
With his composite hockey stick buckling in his hands, Justin Abdelkader was fortunate that it didn’t completely disintegrate before he could get enough thrust on his backhand to propel the puck across the goal line 24 seconds into overtime.
“It’s one of those things where you’re in front, you’re battling, you’re whacking,” Abdelkader said. “I thought the stick kind of exploded at the same time I’m trying to put the puck in the net. It’s so hard. When you see that on the replay you say, ‘Oh, that was broken’ but at the same time in the moment you don’t know if it’s fully broken or not.”
The scoring sequence lifted the Red Wings to a 2-1 comeback victory over the St. Louis Blues at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday afternoon.
The Blues put up an argument with the referees, however, their decision was final and Abdelkader’s power-play goal – No. 20 on the season and his 10th career game-winner – was allowed to stand.
Overtime began with Blues center Patrik Berglund serving the final 39 seconds of his tripping penalty. Detroit immediately went to work on the 4-on-3 man advantage. With Abdelkader screening St. Louis goalie Jake Allen, defenseman Marek Zidlicky fired a one-timer from the right circle. Allen made the save, but Abdelkader was there for the rebound.
First, the former Michigan State standout took a swipe at the loose puck on the forehand, where he damaged the integrity of the stick on Allen’s pads. Still fighting for the loose puck, Abdelkader was able to switch to the backhand, knocking the puck into the open net before the stick literally snapped into two pieces.
“Battle in front, a couple of whacks at it and found a way to get it in,” Abdelkader said.
Playing for the third straight game without top-line center Pavel Datsyuk (lower-body injury), the Wings were desperate for win a win Sunday. Having dropped six of the last eight games, and only producing one goal in each of their losses at Florida and Tampa Bay last week, the Wings need points to hold off Boston and Ottawa in the Atlantic Division playoff race.
Goalie Jimmy Howard was a difference maker as well for Detroit, stopping 23 shots to collect his 21st win of the season.
“Obviously St. Louis is a real deep team,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Without Pav today our match-ups were harder. But our guys played hard and found a way to win. Howie’s had two good games in a row, which is important for us. We need Howie to be good every night to have success. Tonight was a good game for us. They’re a hard team, we had to play hard. We caught them on a back to back just like Tampa caught us on a back to back and we found a way to win.”
In 14 games without Datsyuk, the Wings have scored 36 goals (2.57 per game). In 57 games with him, Detroit has scored 168 goals (2.94 per game). At the earliest, the Wings hope to have Datsyuk back in time for Tuesday’s home game against Arizona, if not, then for San Jose on Thursday.
Detroit’s offensive struggles continued Sunday. They now have four goals in the past three games. They survived a similar rough patch earlier this season, when they scored six goals in a six-game stretch from Dec. 10-23. In that span, the Wings went 0-2-4.
Following a scoreless first period, the Blues’ power play struck when Alex Steen’s shot from the blue line found its way through congestion in front of Howard. The Wings had killed off 13 straight man advantages until that goal.
Trailing 1-0 in the opening minute of the third period, the Wings caught a break on a fortuitous bounce when Abdelkader’s shot from the top of the circle went off the side of Chris Butler’s head and right onto Erik Cole’s stick blade. The big forward responded by quickly beating Alex Pietrangelo to the loose puck before chipping it over goalie Jake Allen.
“We were just able to get a turnover and didn’t really have a play with it,” said Cole, who has three goals in the past five games. “Abby just tried to throw it in the corner and it ended up hitting their D-man in the side of the head and just laid out in font there and I was able to beat their defenseman to it and whack it in.”
Abdelkader has been a remarkable story this season. A role player in past years, he’s having fun this season as first time 20-goal scorer in the league.
“It’s something you always shoot for, especially myself, coming from 10 goals as my previous career high,” he said. “I felt like I had a lot of chances the last few seasons playing some good minutes and I’ve gotten more power-play time this year, just trying to be good at the net, screen the goalie, get tips, get sticks on pucks, find ways to put them in. I think my confidence has grown. As you get older in this league, it’s a tough league to come in as a young player. I’ve definitely learned it. I felt like I’ve continued to put work in and get better. It’s a big accomplishment but at the same time winning games is the most important. If I can contribute and help, great.”
Another good thing for the Wings is that seven of their last 11 games are on home ice, where they are 20-14-4.
“It’s obviously nice to be at home and nice to be able to take advantage of this week here,” Cole said. “But at the same time it’s every other day for the rest of the way. We need to be prepared every night and preparing ourselves for playoff hockey and continue to claw our way and climb our way in the standings.”