SUNRISE, Fla. – The Red Wings received some help this afternoon when Pittsburgh defeated Philadelphia, 4-1, keeping the Flyers one point behind Detroit for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Now the Wings can work on creating some distance by getting two points tonight against the Atlantic Division-leading Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.
The Red Wings, who are 5-5-0 in the past 10 games, are coming off a 3-1 win at Columbus on Thursday. They will have one of their core leaders return night.
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall missed the last three games after suffering a sprained right knee last Saturday against the New York Rangers.
“Well, first of all, he’s an elite leader,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s been a big leader for this organization for a long time, so I think having him in our lineup will be important. We’re still gonna evaluate after warmups, make sure everything’s good in terms of our D corps, but Nik’s a big part of our team, has been for a long time.”
Jimmy Howard draws the starting assignment against the Panthers. It will be just the second time this season that the veteran goalie has started in back-to-back games for the Red Wings.
He also got the win against the Blue Jackets, making 27 saves. Petr Mrazek was supported to start Thursday but he’s became ill earlier in the week. He’s still feeling under the weather, though he did participate in Saturday’s optional skate.
Still, Howard has been playing quite well, and the Wings have all the confidence in him to get the job done against the Panthers. In six career games against the Panthers, Howard has a 2-2-2 record with a 2.43 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.
“He’s played real well lately, but he’s also got a resume that says he’s been a great goalie in this league,” Blashill said. “So no different than Florida, they’ve had two goalies be real good for them. It just seems to be in the league that it’s such a tight league you can’t afford any kind of letdowns, and certainly injuries and sickness and those things are a part of it. You have to have two guys that are gonna be impact players at the position, and Jimmy has been certainly lots this year and throughout his career.”
The Red Wings had scoring chances as Anthony Mantha and Gustav Nyquist each had early opportunities.
But it was the Panthers who took a first-period lead on a turnover in the Red Wings’ zone orchestrated by Jiri Hudler and Jakub Kindl.
While Kindl didn’t get an assist, he did figured in the scoring play when his shot from the left point was blocked by Kronwall. The puck deflected to the right faceoff circle where Jonathan Ericsson tried a clearing attempt but Nick Bjugstad held the puck in the side at the blue line and played give-and-go with Hudler.
Bjugstad then made no mistake, snapped a shot that appeared to glance off Howard’s left-catching glove and into the net for a 1-0 lead at 10:49.
Late in the period, Kindl gave the Wings the gift of a power play when he was whistled for hooking rookie Andreas Athanasiou deep in the Panthers’ zone.
Four seconds later, Tomas Tatar became the Wings’ second 20-goal scorer of the season when he tipped Brad Richards’ shot from the left circle. It was the Wings’ first power-play goal in the last four games.
DETROIT 1, FLORIDA 1
SCORING: 1. FLA, Bjugstad (Hudler), 10:49; 2. DET, Tatar PPG (Richards, Green), 18:25.
PENALTIES: 1. FLA, Kindl (hooking), 18:21; 2. DET, Abdelkader (high-sticking), 19:43.
SHOTS: Detroit 11, Florida 6.
The Panthers regained the lead which was set up by another turnover by the Red Wings. This time Pavel Datsyuk’s clear at the blue line hit a skate and the puck ended up on Jussi Jokinen’s stick. The Panthers’ veteran forward then spotted Vincent Trocheck breaking into the zone alone, and with an easy path to the net, he managed to slip a backhand shot underneath Howard.
Hard work on the forecheck led to the Panthers building a two-goal lead late in the period. Bjugstad picked up his second point of the game when he out-battled a Wings’ defender for the puck in the corner and slid a pass to Teddy Purcell out front. After a move to get around Mike Green, Purcell wristed a shot behind Howard for a 3-1 edge.
The Red Wings had two power play chances when Alex Petrovic went to the box on consecutive penalties for roughing and tripping late in the frame. They didn’t have success on the first opportunity, but Datsyuk found the back of the net with a fluttering shot from a scramble in front of Roberto Luongo with 10.1 seconds showing on the clock.
Darren Helm finished with period with a tripping penalty at the 20-minute mark.
FLORIDA 3, DETROIT 2
SCORING: 1. FLA, Trocheck (Jokinen), 7:08; 2. FLA, Purcell (Bjugstad), 12:48; 3. DET, Datsyuk PPG (Abdelkader, Nyquist), 19:49.
PENALTIES: 1. DET, Smith (holding the stick), 9:48; 2. FLA, Petrovic (roughing), 15:17; 3. FLA, Petrovic (tripping), 18:36; 4. Helm (tripping), 20:00.
SHOTS: Detroit 12 (23), Florida 11 (17).
Sandwiched around Abdelkader’s 20th career fight, Dylan Larkin and Luke Glendening scored huge goals and Howard finished with 23 saves and the Red Wings capped a 4-3 comeback victory.
Larkin pulled the Wings even with a quick shot off a rebound surrendered off Luongo’s pads. The Panthers’ goalie made the initial stop on Ericsson’s shot but Larkin swooped in on the rebound and whistled a shot between Luongo’s left pad and the near post for the tying goal.
The goal gives Larkin a team-best 21 goals on the season.
Abdelkader and Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau slashed one another as they finished a shift in front of the team benches. The slashes escalated to fisticuffs and a pair of fighting majors assessed to both.
Moments later, Larkin helped put the Wings in front as his shot from the halfway was redirected by Glendening, who managed to change the flight of the puck before it beat Luongo.
Larkin now has 43 points, which is one shy of tying Zetterberg, who is the last Wings’ rookie to produce at least 44 points since 2002-03. That season, he finished with 22 goals and 22 assists in 79 games.
Datsyuk added an empty-net goal.
The win gives the Wings 83 points and a three-point cushion over the Flyers for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
DETROIT 5, FLORIDA 3
SCORING: 1. DET, Larkin (Ericsson, Kronwall), 3:52; 2. DET, Glendening (Larkin, Kronwall), 8:39; 3. DET, Datsyuk EN (Abdelkader), 19:23.
PENALTIES: 1. DET, Abdelkader (fighting), 6:18; 2. FLA, Huberdeau (fighting), 6:18; 3. DET, Quincey (roughing), 15:21; 4. FLA, Jokinen (roughing), 15:21.
SHOTS: Detroit 7 (30), Florida 9 (26).