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Notes: Blashill impressed with emergency backup Ayres

Mantha getting up to speed; Hronek could return this coming week

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- It's the story that everyone in the hockey world is talking about today.

Emergency backup goaltender David Ayres was forced into the game Saturday night to play for the Carolina Hurricanes against the Maple Leafs in Toronto after both James Reimer and former Wing Petr Mrazek were injured.

Ayres is a 42-year-old who drives the Zamboni for the AHL's Toronto Marlies and who had never played in the NHL.

After going in during the second period, Ayres allowed two goals on three shots, then stopped all seven shots he faced in the third period to earn the victory for the Hurricanes.

Tweet from @Canes: A memory we'll all have forever

Wings coach Jeff Blashill is a former goaltender who can truly appreciate the moment Ayres had.

"I think it's awesome," Blashill said. "I actually heard Rod's (coach Rod Brind'Amour's) speech, too, when he talked about memories and that the team and David had created one for him. That's pretty cool, too. What a great moment. I watched the interview with his wife after. It's awesome. It's an incredible, incredible thing. I wasn't watching the game. I was getting tons of texts from our coaching staff who were and they were saying it's must-see TV. What a neat, neat night for them."

With the Hurricanes in the playoff race, some people were critical of leaving an important game to an untested goaltender.

"I heard some commentators talk about that maybe the emergency backup's pedigree should be better or he should be younger per se, I don't know," Blashill said. "I think Brian Burke was talking about that a little bit. We talked about it as a group. There's no easy answer to it though. These guys are coming to every game, people have jobs, too. It's a commitment that way for sure.

"I just know in our case Josh Block, he's around us a lot, we've asked a lot of him and he's prepared to go. I would say in my understanding, I don't have total knowledge of it, but I remember two instances, one last night and one in Chicago and they're 2-0. So it doesn't happen very often and right now they got a winning record."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Coach Blashill ahead of #CGYvsDET.+ #HockeyIsForEveryone Night+ David Ayres

The Wings veered near having to put Block into a game on Nov. 27.

Jonathan Bernier was supposed to start but was ill, so Jimmy Howard played. When Howard got hurt, Bernier had to get his gear back on and play despite being sick.

"We came real close," Blashill said. "One of the things with Bernier and Howie that night is you try to do everything you can to get your guys in the lineup. Besides having a guy almost on a practice squad type thing, that means he's got to travel with the team, that's a heck of an expense. There's a lot that goes into it. We did come close but I think there's a decent number of close calls but it hasn't happened much. It's been a real minuscule, if you compare it to the number of actual games, and again, they're 2-0."

MANTHA FEELING HIS WAY: If you look at the points, Anthony Mantha has been pretty good in the six games since his return from missing 20 games with broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Mantha, who scored the lone goal in Friday's 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders, has one goal and five assists in those six games.

"I'm feeling good," Mantha said. "Not great I don't think yet but feeling good. It's coming along. I think (Saturday) was a good practice, so hopefully it's a full 100 percent tomorrow (Sunday) night."

It's a difficult thing to get up to speed after missing so much time, especially when the season is in full swing.

"I thought before he got hurt the first time, he was playing really good hockey and moved his feet on a consistent basis," Blashill said Saturday. "I think he's a big man who, when he's been out for a while, has a hard time keeping those habits of moving his feet on a consistent basis where they need to be. I think he's played fine, I think he's at times played good. I thought his first game back was excellent, didn't miss a beat.

"But he's just got to keep pushing himself to make sure those feet are moving all the time. For me, it's just knees bent and skating and when he does that, he's an excellent player. Those habits slip when you haven't been able to practice on a consistent basis and play on a consistent basis. It's just going to take continued time."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: We believe #HockeyIsForEveryone.

FLAMES IN TOWN: The Wings face the Flames for the final time this season.

Calgary is currently fifth in the Pacific Division with 68 points (31-25-6) but is only four points behind Vegas' 72 points (32-22-8).

"They're a good team," Mantha said. "Obviously they're gonna work super hard, so we need to start from minute number one and play a 60-minute game. That's gonna be the key. Like I said, just work for ourselves, for our teammates, to build something for next year."

Having been officially eliminated from playoff contention, the Wings can play the spoiler role but they know teams will be fighting hard to try to secure playoff spots.

"One would just be playing a team that knows they need the points, so there's a desperation or urgency level they're going to come in with," Blashill said. "We're going to see this a lot down the stretch. We got to make sure we play with that same urgency and desperation level. Their coach talked about it after the loss against Boston, that he thought they needed more of that. So we're going to get their best.

"They got some real dynamic players. I had a chance to coach one of them a number of times, Johnny Gaudreau, he's super-dynamic, does a really good job, got a chance to coach Derek Ryan, who does a really good job as well. They got a good team. They're missing some guys on the back end, which is important pieces for them, but certainly the urgency level they're going to come with we're going to have to match."

INJURY UPDATES: Defenseman Filip Hronek will miss his third straight game with an upper-body injury but might not miss too much more time.

"Better," Blashill said. "Sometime in this coming week, we expect him to play."

Blashill said forward Robby Fabbri, who did not practice Saturday, is available to play.

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