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Wings capitalize on “sense of urgency”

by Michelle Crechiolo / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Friday’s game against the Nashville Predators seemed destined to end like some of the Red Wings’ recent disappointing losses.

The Wings had entered the third period up 3-1, but Nashville was refusing to go down without a fight, getting on the board at the 5:57 mark to climb within one. The Predators offense was peppering Wings goalie Jimmy Howard with a barrage of shots, creating a multitude of scoring opportunities.

That’s when Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg scored from behind the Nashville goal line with 9:48 remaining in the period to give his team a 4-2 cushion. The Wings executed and held onto their lead to capture two much-needed points.

With Friday’s win, the Wings are now tied with the Predators for seventh place in the Western Conference with 61 points.

“It was very evident that once we got ahead that we weren’t very comfortable, just because we haven’t won lately. We’ve blown some leads, and I think that you carry that around,” said Wings coach Mike Babcock. “You have to win a game like this to get yourself back on track so everyone can relax and start to play hockey at a high level.”

In all four games previous to Wednesday’s 5-2 loss against Minnesota, the Wings let two-goal leads slip away in the third period. Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said that in order to win on Friday, his team had to come out with a “sense of urgency” in order to hold onto their leads, and they proved to be up to the task.

“I thought we had that tonight,” he said. “The guys did a great job of being in shooting lanes and trying to block shots, and really play with some desperation. I thought we needed that tonight. I thought it really came out late in that third period.”

The catalyst behind the Wings’ victory was Howard, who performed brilliantly until the final buzzer sounded, stopping 46 of 48 shots, 18 of which came in the third period. He came close to reaching his NHL career high of 51 saves recorded on Jan. 7 at Los Angeles .

Howard said that all he concentrated on was keeping in mind how vital the race for playoff points is.

“I was seeing the puck well out there, I was just getting out and letting the puck hit me,” Howard said. “You know, not trying to overdo anything, not trying to be cute out there, because this isn’t the time, we need points. That’s all I really try to concentrate on.”

Lidstrom is impressed with how the rookie netminder is growing as a player. “I think he’s learning a lot by playing in games like this, where you have to bear down and play real well in the last minute or in the whole third period the way he did,” he said.

“I think he’s been really taking huge steps forward with the way he’s been playing so far this year.”

FINALS REMATCH: The Wings will travel to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins for a matinee game on Sunday. NBC will broadcast the match as their “Game of the Week.”

The Wings and the Penguins faced each other in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals appearances. The resulting champions were split, with the Wings winning the Cup in 2008, and the Penguins taking it in 2009.

Matches between the Wings and the Penguins always prove exciting, with both teams possessing notable future Hall-of-Famers. Detroit has the Big Three of Pavel Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lidstrom, while Pittsburgh’s stars include Olympians Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury.

It’s an event the players look forward to every year. Since the Wings play in the Western Conference and the Penguins play in the Eastern Conference, they only see each other twice during the regular season at the most.

“We’re looking forward to tomorrow and having a great match-up against the Penguins,” Zetterberg said.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere,” forward Kris Draper said. “There’s been a lot of great hockey played between these two organizations the last couple years, and we’re expecting more of the same. It’s going to have a little bit of everything.”

This game will be the start of a five-game road trip, which will consist of stops in San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and St. Louis before returning to Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 11.

Forward Tomas Holmstrom, who was on track to return for Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh, will be taking a little more time to recover from a broken foot sustained on Jan. 6.

Holmstrom felt good during Saturday’s practice, but not well enough to dispel his anxieties about returning too early.

“There’s always a little nervousness, but I’m also really worried I could snap it up again. I don’t want to do that,” he said. “It’s still a little tender going in. But the more I skated it seems to get warmer and looser, so it’s pretty good.”

“We’re going to give him another couple of days,” Babcock said. “Confidence-wise, I think it’s good for him to get another couple of days under his belt.”

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