DETROIT - There are only so many times forward Gustav Nyquist can attribute his scoring success to lucky bounces, good deflections and opportunities created by his teammates.
In Detroit’s 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay Sunday, the 24-year-old showcased one of the most skilled goals seen at The Joe this season.
With less than five minutes remaining in the first period, David Legwand found Nyquist streaking up center ice. Despite being hooked by Matthew Carle, Nyquist positioned himself in front of the Tampa Bay defenseman and miraculously stayed on his feet, spun around and craftily guided his shot from beneath the goal line off goaltender Ben Bishop’s left leg.
“Leggy made a real nice play up the middle and I just tried to get good body position on the D-man there to get an opportunity to score,” Nyquist explained. “Made that last move to my backhand and noticed that the goalie was out of the net. I lost the puck a little bit and it went behind the goal line there. I was hoping the goalie was still out of the net on the other side so I just tried to spin and get it on net as fast as possible. Nice to see it go in."
Although the play likely would have resulted in a penalty shot, no one was complaining that the forward netted the goal.
“Yeah it might’ve been but I think he’ll take the goal over the penalty shot any day of the week,” Legwand said.
The score extended Nyquist’s point streak to nine games, the longest by a Detroit player since Henrik Zetterberg had an 11-game streak from Dec. 2, 2010 to Jan. 10, 2011. Nyquist leads the NHL with 22 goals in 27 games since Jan. 20, including 12 goals since Feb. 26. After beginning the season in Grand Rapids, the forward is now tied for second on the team in scoring with 45 points (27-18-45).
“He’s feeling good about himself,” said coach Mike Babcock. “He creates space when he gets the puck. He’s faster with the puck then without it. He’s playing well for us.”
Nyquist has paved the way for a young Red Wings team that has rightly earned the nickname the “Red Griffins” this season.
Not only has the club seen as many as 13 players from Grand Rapids’ 2013 Calder Cup Championship team play in at least one NHL regular season game this year, but 24 of the club’s 49 goals since the Olympic break have been scored by members of that AHL team.
“I think all the young guys are really stepping up,” said Nyquist. “I thought we had a real solid game today. Our penalty kill was great, our power play was better today than it has been for a few games here. I thought we played solid so it was real nice to see."
But as well as the youngsters have played as of late, the team’s veterans have certainly stepped up as the playoff race continues to tighten.
Five veteran players accounted for six of the game’s eight points, as Legwand earned two points (1-1-2), while Niklas Kronwall, Daniel Alfredsson, Darren Helm and Johan Franzen recorded assists.
“Our veteran leadership group, Alfredsson and Legwand, neither of them were on the ice at the end after the timeout, but both guys were in helping out in the timeout,” Babcock said. “Mule’s really stepped up. Kronner has been fantastic all year. And we have a bunch of kids working real hard. We’re trying to find a way to get in the playoffs.”
Helm also earned a hat trick in Detroit’s 4-2 victory over Toronto Saturday and Franzen has netted seven goals, including a hat trick of his own, since the Olympic break.
With the victory, Babcock passed former Wings coach Scotty Bowman on the all-time winningest Detroit coaches list, and now stands in second place with 411 wins behind Jack Adams (413).
“Scotty should be in a class by himself,” Babcock said. “It’s not like I wanted to pass Scott Bowman, but I’m honored. He’s a good friend of my. I’m honored I get to talk about him here. We haven’t been as good lately, but we’re grinding and finding ways to win games so let’s keep going.”
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