DETROIT – It was hard not to notice the valuable contributions made by Valtteri Filppula on Thursday night.
Even captain Henrik Zetterberg chimed in after the game when he overheard reporters ask Filppula about his dominance in the faceoff circle.
“About time,” Zetterberg joked, as he walked past the crowd gathered around Filppula in the locker room following the Red Wings’ 5-2 win over Nashville at Joe Louis Arena.
The Red Wings’ second-line center was an absolute beast in the face-off circle, winning 81 percent of his draws against five different Predators’ centers, who struggled against Filppula. He only lost three of 13 draws, while winning 10-of-12 in the offensive zone.
“He looked good I thought. I told him after the first (period) he was doing really well,” said Johan Franzen, who scored a goal and set-up Filppula’s first-period tally. “It looked like he won most of them. That’s awesome. It’s so much easier to play when you’re starting with the puck than having to get it back. So that’s huge for our line.”
The Predators built a pair of one-goal leads in the first period. But it was Filppula’s line that helped the Red Wings pull even before they added three more goals by Patrick Eaves, Pavel Datsyuk and Justin Abdelkader to seal the victory.
It was the first time that the Red Wings scored more than four goals since defeating Anaheim, 5-1, on March 22.
Filppula had more reason to enjoy Thursday’s game when he scored career goal No. 100 to tie the score at 1-1 at 6:53 of the first period. He wired a quick snap shot from low in the slot that beat Predators backup Chris Mason.
Asked if he was aware of his milestone tally, Filppula flashed a smile and said, “Yes. Yes, I did. I haven’t scored that many, so I know my goals.”
Filppula is the fifth player on the current Red Wings’ roster to score 100 career goals with the franchise, joining Zetterberg (261), Datsyuk (255), Franzen (164), and Daniel Cleary (119).
This season has been a struggle for Filppula, who suffered a sprained knee while playing in Finland during the NHL lockout. It’s taken him some time to get going. However, a week ago, the Red Wings made a move that they hoped would produce offensive results and get something out of Filppula, who’s now centering a line between Franzen and Cleary.
“I like center,” said Filppula, who has three points in the last six games. “I think you get the puck more and that way you’re more involved. Sometimes it goes well on the wing and sometimes it goes well at center, but definitely I’ve enjoyed playing center.”
With the win Thursday, the Red Wings took over sole possession of the No. 7 seed in the West, jumping the Minnesota Wild, who was idle on Thursday. But Detroit will have to wait until Saturday, the final day of the regular-season, to learn if they will extend their consecutive playoff streak to 22 straight seasons. That’s because Columbus was also a winner on Thursday, defeating the Stars, 3-1, at Dallas.
The Red Wings, who maintain a one-point lead over Columbus and Minnesota, only need to beat the Stars Saturday night to clinch a playoff berth.
The Wings’ offense is certainly rolling now as they Detroit finished the home portion of the schedule on a three-game winning streak, out-scoring Phoenix, Los Angeles and Nashville this week by a 12-3 margin.
“We need to win here down the stretch so it’s all about playing the way we do,” said Franzen, who has 13 points in the last 12 games. “We keep it simple. We get pucks to the net and we get traffic. We really haven’t been doing that here. We’d been trying to make the fancy plays on the outside and hoping for an open net somewhere. It doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to play like this and that’s when you start scoring.”
THREE STARS: 3, Valtteri Filppula, DET (1 goal, 3-of-13 FO); 2, Pavel Datsyuk, DET (1 goal, 2 assists); 1, Johan Franzen, DET (1 goal, 1 assist).
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