NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Red Wings and Nashville Predators entered Saturday’s matinee as the only NHL teams without back-to-back losses in regulation this season.
By virtue of the Minnesota Wild’s 4-2 victory Thursday, the Red Wings had a chance to change the landscape by pinning a second straight loss on the Predators.
For the fifth third time on their six-game road trip, the Red Wings trailed after two periods. And for the fourth time they mounted a late comeback to win or earn a point in overtime/shootout.
With third-period goals by Alexy Marchenko and Tomas Tatar, and a super effort by the team’s penalty killers late in the game, the Red Wings rallied to a 4-3 victory before a sold-out Bridgestone Arena.
“We like to be ahead,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “That’s not the plan to get behind. But we pretty much go with all four groups and we just get them out on the ice and in the end we believe if we do things right we have a chance to win.”
The Wings also posted wins at Dallas and San Jose, and salvaged one point in a shootout loss at Anaheim on their longest trip in six seasons.
The Red Wings held a two-goal lead on goals by Brendan Smith – who was a game-time decision with a hand injury – and Drew Miller. But the Predators raced back with three straight goals to take a 3-2 lead into the second intermission.
Smith wasn’t sure if he could play Saturday. His right hand was still sore after he was struck by a Brent Burns’ slap shot Thursday in San Jose. The Wings called up Xavier Ouellet from Grand Rapids in case Smith was unavailable.
“I was 50-50, I told coach I’m not sure, that’s why we called up Olli,” Smith said. “It’s hard because we didn’t have practice after San Jose and didn’t have morning skate (Saturday), so it’s hard for me to tell the coaches if I was OK and obviously they played it safe by getting a guy like Olli up, who can go in and play at any time. But I was able to do it and it worked out.”
Marchenko sniped a 40-foot shot that beat Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne high. Justin Abdelkader and Niklas Kronwall picked up assists on the goal at 3:56 of the third period, which was Marchenko’s first in 13 career NHL games.
“Just lucky you know,” the soft-spoke Marchenko said. “Justin made a really great play. Kronner gave to him in the middle and he just dropped it to me. I just finished it and got lucky.”
The league’s top power play came through again for the Red Wings when Tomas Tatar banked a shot in off of Predators defenseman Roman Josi at 9:06.
From there, Jonas Gustavsson played huge in net for the Wings, making 15 of his 37 saves in the final period, and Joakim Andersson blocked a big shot as the Wings’ penalty kill held off consecutive Preds’ power plays when Smith and Riley Sheahan went to the box roughly three-minutes apart.
“It was a great job by the killers,” Danny DeKeyser said. “Andy had a great block off (Shea) Weber and that’s not easy to do when you see him winding up for a one-timer. I thought it was a great kill and probably got us a win.”
The Red Wings are now the only team in the league without consecutive losses in regulation. Detroit is 10-0-5 in games following 60-minute losses this season. Nashville, who leads the league with 89 points, is 11-1-2.
Since the beginning of January, the Wings have played 17 of the last 23 on the road, finishing with a very successful 11-5-1 road record.
“I think we’re happy with what we’ve done,” Smith said. “We want to keep getting better. We don’t want to plateau, we want to continue to improve and I think we’ve shown that something we can do a little better is start on time. We did a good job of that tonight but some other games we’ve lacked. We got to play a full 60, that’s what you got to do in the playoffs. That’s where we’re trying to keep getting better but we’re happy with how we’ve done on the road, we’ve played pretty well at home, too. We want to keep getting better.”