DETROIT – Usually when the Red Wings and Penguins meet it’s a mano e mano showdown between Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, and Pittsbugh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Unfortunately, injuries to the Red Wings’ stars precluded the usual marquee matchup Thursday at Joe Louis Arena.
But there was no shortage of heart-pounding excitement as the Red Wings’ youth helped catapult Detroit to a 5-4 overtime win, earning two critical points that pushed the club into the final wild-card spot ahead of Columbus and Washington by one point. Daniel Alfredsson netted his second straight game-winning goal, this time with four-tenths of a second remaining on the clock.
"I thought we did lots of good things,” said coach Mike Babcock. “Obviously we did some things that weren't great either. We made some mistakes, they made mistakes, but we stayed with it and found a way to win a game. That was a big win for us. We knew going in that we were going to be under siege at times. I thought our guys battled real hard."
The Wings jumped out to a 2-0 lead on tallies from Alfredsson and Gustav Nyquist before Pittsburgh scored three goals within three minutes at the end of the second period to take a one-goal advantage into the third.
But despite the Pens’ daunting record of 29-3-1 when leading after 40 minutes, Detroit regrouped during the second intermission and came out fighting for their playoff lives.
“We’re still in the game, it’s still a one-shot game,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said of the message in the Wings dressing room. “Just stick with it, keep believing. I thought we did a good job to find a way.”
And stick with it they did.
Luke Glendening has proven to be a bee in the bonnet of opposing players in his short career as an undrafted rookie free agent, and that didn’t change in the final period of the game.
Just 20 seconds into a Pittsburgh power play, Glendening’s stick came loose from his hands, and as James Neal sent it careening across the ice, he was quickly whistled for an interference penalty.
“I mean I just got my stick stuck in a skate so I dropped it so I didn’t get another penalty and then it wasn’t broken so they moved it out of the way and that’s a penalty,” Glendening said. “The ref kept asking why I didn’t pick it up but I guess I just got lucky there.”
Or, he was just doing his job.
“I knew it didn’t break but you got a job to do and you can’t go pick up your stick,” Glendening said.
The Red Wings went 200-feet to tie the score on Tomas Tatar’s power-play goal on Detroit’s two-man advantage just two minutes later. As Tatar skated the puck out of the defensive zone, Penguins defensemen Rob Scuderi and Olli Maatta collided and fell in the neutral zone, sending Tatar and Riley Sheahan to streak into the Pens’ zone on a 2-on-1, and Sheahan set his teammate up perfectly for the score.
“I think I lost Malkin behind the net,” Tatar said. “He kind of tried to hit me, and he missed me. I passed to Sheahan, and I think their two guys (Scuderi and Maatta) hit each other at the blue line there so She could go breakaway. But I think the puck bounced over his stick and he was kind of wide. When they hit each other I kind of used it to skate to the net and She made the beautiful pass and I hit it and it ended up in the net.”
Under three minutes later, Todd Bertuzzi netted his ninth goal of the season, as his shot was deflected into the net by Pittsburgh’s Rob Scuderi. Many initially thought Glendening got a piece of the puck, which would have marked his first NHL goal, but the center knew otherwise.
“No I didn’t (think so),” Glendening said. “The guys on the bench were razzing me. Maybe they were just giving me a hard time ‘cause I haven’t scored yet but no I didn’t think so. Bert just got it to the net and it went off their D.”
Bertuzzi’s goal gave the Wings a 4-3 lead with eight minutes remaining in the game – more than enough time for the Penguins to score the tying goal, which Craig Adams did exactly two minutes later.
The Wings most daunting task came after Dave Legwand earned a five-minute major penalty for butt-ending Malkin with less than four minutes left in regulation. Detroit’s penalty kill came up huge, however, as it stifled Pittsburgh’s power play into the overtime period.
“I think it was a tough call, especially against Pittsburgh; we don’t need those,” said Tatar. “But our penalty kill guys did an amazing job for us and they deserve like a big-time standing ovation they pretty much helped give us the two points.”
Just when it seemed like a shootout would inevitably decide the outcome of the Eastern Conference matchup, Alfredsson netted his second straight game-winning goal with .4 seconds remaining in overtime to hand Detroit a pivotal victory over the Penguins.
“I saw it,” Alfredsson said. “I didn’t know there was just a few seconds left, but I know I didn’t hear the horn go off before the puck went in so I thought it would be good. Big break for us, rebound goes off their D and in so we’ll gladly take it today.”