DETROIT -- It was a tight checking hockey game where time and space were at a premium.
The Red Wings and the Maple Leafs battled toe-to-toe for most of the night, but in the end, it was Toronto's aggressive checking at both ends of the rink which proved to be the difference in the Leafs' 5-2 victory over the Wings Saturday night at Little Caesars Arena.
There was also a bang-bang race for the puck with a half minute left in the second period, which swung momentum slightly in the Leafs' favor.
Toronto's Kasperi Kapanen sent the puck down the middle of the ice and it appeared left wing Ilya Mikheyev was going to have a clear cut breakaway on Wings netminder Jimmy Howard.
Howard made the decision to leave his crease and try to beat Mikheyev to the puck, but unfortunately, Mikheyev won the sprint and shot the puck into a wide open net, giving the Leafs a 2-1 lead at 19:30 of the second.
Detroit put up a gallant effort in the third, but the Leafs' tenacious checking didn't allow the Red Wings much time in the attacking zone to mount much of a third-period comeback.
Jacob de la Rose and Darren Helm lit the lamp for the Wings as Detroit's fourth line continued to shine.
Nicholas Shore, Mikheyev, Alexander Kerfoot, Jake Muzzin and Trevor Moore (empty net) scored for the Leafs.
The Wings (3-2-0) will now hit the road for a three-game road swing through Western Canada. They next play Tuesday night in Vancouver.
Toronto (3-2-1) will also play on Tuesday, facing the Minnesota Wild at Scotiabank Arena.
1. Justin Abdelkader : After having a down year last season, Abdelkader was determined to put last season in the rear view mirror and thus far, his start has been encouraging. The former Michigan State Spartans forward has been engaged and delivered a big hit on Saturday to Toronto defenseman Rasmus Sandin which sparked the Wings and the crowd. He also assisted on both Detroit goals. His first assist on the de la Rose goal was his 250th career point. In five games, Abdelkader has two points, is plus-3, doled out eight hits with an ice time average of 13:26 per game.
Quotable: "Justin's got lots of ability. He's had a couple tough years here from a production standpoint but he's a guy that's produced offense in the past, both in this league and his whole life growing up. I think he's shown some of those hands here lately. You don't have to have wow skill to score. The highlights are great but it's not really how you get lots of production. How you get lots of production is finding your way to that scoring square and scoring goals and that's what they've (fourth line) done." - Wings coach Jeff Blashill
Quotable II: "(Abby), he's a big guy and he throws his body around quite a bit and does a good job at it. It's important for everybody to do it and he kind of leads the way in that aspect so he's a good leader there. We've kind of grown up in the Red Wings system together and played a bunch of games together. We're fairly familiar. Obviously, it took us a few games to really get going. Hopefully we'll just continue to grow as a line, as teammates and help the team be successful as much as we can."- Helm
2. Jacob de la Rose/Darren Helm: Detroit may be led by the line of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Tyler Bertuzzi, but over the last three games, a case can be made that its most effective line is its fourth line of de la Rose, Helm and Abdelkader. The line accounted for both Red Wings goals against the Leafs with de la Rose and Helm each netting one. The line is big, physical and plays with relentless passion. de la Rose's goal broke a 34-game goal drought dating back to Jan. 2 versus Calgary. Helm scored for the second consecutive game, the first time he's scored in back-to-back games since April 3-5, 2018. For a Wings team in search of secondary scoring, their fourth line seems poised to accept the challenge.
Quotable: "I think everybody is buying into who we are and what we need to do to be successful as a line. We're not the most skilled guys on the team but if we play the right way, we're going to get chances. I think we've been playing good here the last couple of games. We have to work hard and play the right way for us to get chances. Being physical is a part of that. I think we've just have to keep going. We're kind of similar players, so it's easier. We know where the other guys are going to be out there on the ice. I played a lot with Abby last year, too. I know what kind of player he is. We play the same way, so it's working out good right now." - de la Rose
Quotable II: "They've had three games in a row where they've been big, strong, heavy, created scoring chances. I don't know if I knew how good Abby played in the Anaheim game until I went back and watched the tape. He set up a number of opportunities up front. That's why I started them in Montreal, that's why I started them tonight, and they ended going up a decent amount against (Auston) Matthews. de la Rose is a big, big man, too, so he can go head to head with a big man like Matthews. So I think they've been a real good line for us the last little bit and I think they can continue to be. Now you got a line with Larkin that's really clicking, you got a line with de la Rose, Helm and Abby that's clicking. We need to keep finding chemistry on the other lines." - Blashill
3. Jimmy Howard: Despite being overly aggressive on the Mikheyev goal in the last 30 seconds of the second period, Howard once again kept his team in the game, giving the Red Wings a chance to win. Toronto was buzzing around the Detroit goal all game, but Howard remained solid in net. The Leafs fired 40 shots at Howard who made 36 saves for a .900 save percentage. Though he's probably fuming over the Mikheyev goal, goaltending was not the deciding factor in Saturday's loss to the Leafs. Toronto's relentless checking shut down the Wings, who never established much time in the Leafs zone.
Quotable: "That goal there at the end of the period when they went up 2-1 was a tough one. I thought we did a good job of responding to that starting in the third. Then they scored, and we scored again and just came up short. We got outworked by their forwards. They were working and backchecking and stripping us. They just outworked us." - Dylan Larkin
Quotable II: "The first period was certainly even. We scored early, we were fine, I thought it ebbed and flowed a little bit, it was an even period. I didn't think we gave up a whole bunch. I thought in the second period we got half-iced a little bit, where we just couldn't get out of our end, couldn't get the puck into their end and we ended up with a bunch of tired guys too many shifts in a row and over time it takes its toll and, in the end, it started to really turn that way. Obviously, the goal late can really hurt. It doesn't have to hurt, though, we scored a goal late the other night and lost. We came back in the third and I thought they outplayed us again. We got to make sure … I thought they (the Leafs) were real competitive tonight, they really worked. We got to make sure we out-compete and outwork teams and I don't think … I know we didn't outwork and out-compete them tonight." - Blashill