DETROIT - The Red Wings did exactly what they were supposed to against Buffalo Friday night: they started on time.
Detroit jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first period to take an early edge over the Eastern Conference’s last-place Sabres in what easily could have been, and almost was, a trap game.
“To me, I thought we started really good, we were all over them,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought suddenly we had some skill and suddenly we were dangling around with the puck and now we had the cute-itis going and then we didn’t want to shoot it in the net, we wanted to pass it one more time and the next thing you know it’s game on instead of just doing things simple and hard and right.”
The three-goal advantage proved to be pivotal down the stretch, as the Wings failed to score for the remainder of the game, but gave up two scores in the second and third periods that dwindled their lead to just one goal.
“I think it’s the pressure, the time of the year, the magnitude of the game, being a game we can’t afford to lose, all those things combined, I think makes for us being cautious, more than playing hard for 60,” said forward Daniel Alfredsson. “Before we feel like the underdog and feel like we can claw ourselves into games and find a way to win and today we’re the favorites and didn’t handle that as well as we can.”
The Wings received goals from Darren Helm, Tomas Jurco and Alfredsson to take a commanding lead in the first 20 minutes of play. Helm netted Detroit’s first goal less than six minutes into the game, cleaning up Luke Glendening’s rebound in front of the net. The goal was Helm’s 11th of the season, one shy of his career season high.
Jurco and Alfredsson scored goals just over one minute apart to give Detroit a 3-0 lead late in the first period. Jurco netted a power play goal, a deflection off defenseman Danny DeKesyer’s shot, and led all players with three shots in the opening period.
DeKeyser, who also assisted on Helm’s goal, earned his second career two-assist game in the victory.
"We had a great power play breakout and we got in the zone,” Jurco explained. “DK with Alfie made a nice passing play and DK shot it. I was trying to follow the puck in the air and it hit my blade so it was a good goal and it's really good for me, too."
Seventy-six seconds after Jurco’s goal, Alfredsson netted his 18th goal of the season, cleaning up the rebound off Jakub Kindl’s shot. Alfredsson earned one goal and one assist in the victory after missing Wednesday’s game with a lower back injury.
“I felt OK,” Alfredsson said. “Obviously missing a few days, it felt great to be back on the ice and skating this morning and obviously playing again felt good.”
But despite the three-goal advantage, there were still 40 minutes left to play. The Wings proceeded to give up goals to Jamie McBain and Nicolas Deslauriers in the second and third periods, respectively, which cut Detroit’s lead to just one goal.
“I think we probably tried to protect the lead too much, not trying to get the fourth one,” Alfredsson said. “They worked themselves into the game. They’re a dangerous team. They played pretty open, spread us out a bit. I thought down the stretch we did a good job. Last 6-7 minutes felt comfortable.”
The Wings maintained their lead through the final 13 minutes of play, earning two important points with just five games remaining in the regular season.
“That’s all that matters this time of year,” said goaltender Jimmy Howard, who made 21 saves in the victory. “It doesn’t matter anything about stats right now, it’s just about getting two points, whether you win the game 1-0 or 7-6 it’s about getting two points and getting into the playoffs.”
After missing 16 games with a knee injury, Pavel Datsyuk returned to Detroit’s lineup against Buffalo, recording 17:45 of ice time, one shot and one blocked shot. The center skated on a line with Helm and Justin Abdelkader.
“I thought he looked like he’s a talented guy,” said Babcock. “I thought his fitness showed in the third period for sure and that’s not a surprise. I don’t know if it’s his fitness or just he hasn’t played in so long but he’ll probably feel better tomorrow.”
The victory marked Babcock's 413th career win with the Wings, tying former Detroit coach Jack Adams on the club’s all-time winningest coaches list. Babcock holds a 413-196-90 record through 699 games, while Adams earned a 413-390-161 record through 964 games.
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