DETROIT – The Red Wings flirted with fire Friday night, but in the end their hot start proved to be enough against the out-manned Buffalo Sabres.
“I think the pace from us slowed down as the game went on,” said Daniel Alfredsson, who had the game-winner in the Red Wings’ 3-2 victory at Joe Louis Arena.
“We probably tried to protect the lead too much, not trying to get the fourth one,” he 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 Red Wings have won four straight games, and taken points in nine of the past 12 contests that included benchmark wins over three of the top four teams in the East – Boston, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. The win gave the Wings a three-point lead in the standings over the Columbus Blue Jackets, who lost to Chicago, 4-3, on Friday.
“Obviously it was huge for the standings but we still have to get a few more wins here to get in,” forward Gustav Nyquist said. “I feel that every time we win the other teams win too. Everybody lost tonight which is nice to hear but obviously we have to get a few more wins. They’re going to play for their lives in the last few games and we’re going to have to find a way to get a few more wins.”
Two of the three closest teams chasing the Red Wings, including the Washington Capitals, lost one-goal games Friday night. Detroit (88 points) now has a three-point lead over the Jackets (85), while increasing its cushion over Toronto (84), who was idle Friday, and New Jersey (82) and Washington (81).
The Jackets are clinging to a one-point lead over Toronto for the second wild-card spot but they lost in the most demoralizing way possible Friday. With 3.9 seconds left in regulation, the Blackhawks’ Ben Smith was credit with the game winner in Chicago’s 4-3 victory when he swatted the puck in a scrum that eluded the Jackets goalie and two defensemen who were all in the crease.
After building a 3-0 lead in the first period, the Red Wings had to fight off a third-period surge by the Sabres, who have a league-low 51 points. Buffalo narrowed its gap to 3-2 when rookie Nicolas Deslauriers collected his first NHL goal at 6:40 of the final frame.
With five games remaining, including an Atlantic Division showdown in Montreal Saturday night, the Red Wings continue to feel the playoff pressure, and likely will until they secure a spot.
“I think we’ve been feeling it for forever, I think that’s a great thing,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Pressure means you have an opportunity. If you had no pressure you’d be out or you’d be 20 points up. The reality is, is for us, we understand the situation we’re in. We look at the scoreboard every day.”
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