DETROIT – The Edmonton Oilers are going nowhere fast in the last five weeks of the NHL season. But that didn’t prevent the Western Conference's last-place team from making life as difficult as possible on the Red Wings who are fighting for their playoff lives.
“We had to work for everything,” Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “They’re a dangerous team right now when they are playing as loose as they are. They’re just wheeling-and-dealing out there and they’re a tough team to play against. They have a lot of skilled forwards and they made us work for everything here tonight.”
The Red Wings eventually got what they set out for Friday, which was two points in the Eastern Conference standings, defeating the Oilers 2-1 in a shootout at Joe Louis Arena.
Howard made 21 saves during 65 minutes and an additional three stops against Jordan Eberle, David Perron and Taylor Hall, who enter the skills competition with a combined 9-for-11 in the shootout this season.
Tomas Tatar scored the lone shootout goal to give the Red Wings their second win in March.
“Huge. Howie, obviously, in the shootout bailing us out there, which is real positive for us,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I don’t think Eberle had missed all year, so it was great to see that happen and gives him some confidence and gives us some confidence. We can relax and play a bit.”
Despite the tightly contended contest, the Red Wings had a 1-0 lead through the midway point of the third period. But a mistake deep in the defensive zone led to Ryan Smyth scoring the tying goal when Brendan Smith made a poor clearing attempt. Unfortunately, his back-hand pass went directly to Oilers’ captain, who basically fired a one-timer from the slot that beat Howard high to the glove side.
“If he puts on the guy’s tape on our team and we skate out through the middle I like it,” Babcock said. “If you turn it over it doesn’t look very good.”
The Red Wings are now 13-0-1 in last 14 games overall against Edmonton, outscoring the Oilers 50-24 in that stretch. Since Dec. 3, 2009, the Red Wings have won eight straight on home ice over the Oilers.
Teemu Pulkkinen became the sixth Red Wings’ rookie to make his league debut this year, and ninth in the past 14 months. He is the third Finnish player to suit up in a Red Wings uniform, joining Ville Leino (2008-10) and Valtteri Filppula (2005-13).
The 22-year-old Pulkkinen also had a textbook hip check on Perron (WATCH VIDEO ABOVE), forcing the Oilers’ forward to turn-over the puck as he entered the offensive zone on a second-period rush. The Finnish rookie came close to ending the game in regulation with a few good shots on a power play in the final two minutes.
“Of course you play your first game you’re full of energy,” said Pulkkinen, who finished with two shots on goal in 12 shifts. “I feel like I had still energy, so it was good for me. I played hard every shift.”
Detroit grabbed a 1-0 lead when Riley Sheahan scored on a nifty give-and-go from Tatar at 13:53 of the first period. Sheahan posted up on the right side of Oilers goalie Viktor Fasth and quickly tapped in a pass from Tatar from behind the net.
“I thought Riley Sheahan was a very good player for us tonight. Very, very good,” Babcock said. “He just seems to me to get better and better all the time. He should have a lot of confidence.”
The Red Wings avoided something that could have been a lot worse when with 5:02 left before the first intermission, defenseman Danny DeKeyser needed two stitches to close a cut to his lower lip after he was accidently hit by a teammate’s skate blade.
As Luke Glendening and Oilers center Anton Lander went to play the puck in the left corner to the Red Wings’ net, DeKeyser converged on the pair. He arrived at the precise moment that Glendening tripped over the fallen Lander along the goal line, which sent Glendening’s right skate in an upward path, striking DeKeyser in the bottom lip.
“It kind of happened so fast, he went down and I was skating to my left and all of a sudden I felt my lip get cut,” DeKeyser said. “It was bleeding pretty bad and I thought it was a lot worse but I’m lucky.
“I was really happy that all it was was two stitches and that I could go back out there and play. Seems like all year we’ve been having guys get hurt so that was a bit of a relief.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose