|Justin Abdelkader battles for position with Avs defenseman Nate Guenin moments before the Red Wings' forward slapped his own rebound behind goalie Semyon Varlamov. in the second period. (Photo by Getty Images) |
– The rivalry’s not dead.
From the opening face-off Thursday night, the Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche provided 58 ½-minutes worth of heart-pounding action inside Pepsi Center that brought back memories of past clashes between these former Western Conference rivals.
Justin Abdelkader, who scored the only goal that mattered in a 3-0 victory, said the team definitely fed off the increased energy in the building.
“Usually down south and in California there’s good presence,” Abdelkader said. “But Colorado, especially only playing here once now, it seems the Red Wings fans try to get tickets because this is the only game we’ll be here this season. It’s great to see.”
There was no shortage of entertainment in the first period, which featured a Jonathan Ericsson-Nathan MacKinnon fight in the opening minute and a Colorado goal which was waved off after on-ice officials determined the goal was aided by an illegal hand pass.
MacKinnon, last season’s Calder Trophy recipient as the league’s rookie of the year, took exception to Ericsson’s hit along the boards and challenged the 6-foot-4 defenseman just 44-seconds into the period. It was MacKinnon’s first NHL fight; and Ericsson’s ninth regular-season bout, his first since squaring off with Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf in a lopsided 5-1 win at Anaheim on March 22, 2013.
“I think I got him with his head down on the ice and I think he got a little pissed off, because he was the one who wanted to go,” Ericsson said. “I don’t really fight that much anymore, but it was a good trade off with MacKinnon.”
The fight, which lasted 20-seconds before the pugilists were punched out, gave a jolt of energy to the bipartisan crowd as well as both benches as body checks were plentiful.
“I couldn’t see who he was fighting at first and then I saw MacKinnon,” Abdelkader said. “Good for E. He kind of got the crowd going – both crowds, I guess – Red Wings and Avalanche, because it was pretty split there. It was good to see. They came out throwing right away. We matched it for the most part and got our legs going and did a good job.”
Meanwhile, young goalie Petr Mrazek – who is coming to the end of his string of consecutive starts with the expected return of Jimmy Howard next week – was spectacular, especially while the game was scoreless through the first 33 minutes, and again late until the Wings added to their goal total.
“Tonight’s a big night for him,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “The guy at the other end (Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov) is a star, I mean he’s a heck of a goalie and to go out and beat him 1-0 – I don’t count the empty nets – for a kid is good for him.”
Aside from Gabriel Landeskog’s disallowed goal at 6:09 of the first period, Mrazek made 28 saves, including stellar second-period stops on Maxime Talbot and Ryan O’Reilly. Mrazek has now produced back-to-back strong starts since getting pulled last Thursday at Tampa Bay. He helped Detroit to a 4-1 home win over the New York Islanders on Saturday.
“I think that was a good month with some bad games,” Mrazek said. “You just don’t think about it and just play next games. I’m really happy that’s over. Against the Islanders the two points were more important than the one goal I let (in), and the shutout is a bonus today.”
The Red Wings capitalized on their first power-play opportunity of the night. It came late in the second period after Avs defenseman Jan Hedja interfered with Darren Helm behind the Colorado net. It didn’t take long for the Wings to exploit the Avs’ penalty kill when Abdelkader buried his own rebound behind Varlamov at 13:25.
The power-play tally was career goal No. 50 for Abdelkader. Detroit is now 21-4-5 when scoring on the power play this season, and 8-0-0 in the last eight games that they’ve produced with the man advantage.
“Real good special teams,” Babcock said. “I thought our penalty kill in the first period we killed two but we didn’t do a good job clearing the puck. In the second, when we got the penalty, I think it was (Kyle) Quincey’s penalty, we did a great job there, and then obviously the power play was dangerous. We scored the one and were really dangerous in the other one.”
Detroit put the game out of reach when with 3:04 left in regulation the Avs pulled Varlamov for an extra attacker. The strategy backfired when Helm scored with 2:36 remaining. Luke Glendening capped the scoring for the Wings this his own empty netter with 14.8 second left.