DETROIT – Doc Emrick summed it up perfectly during the waning moments in regulation of NBC’s Wednesday Night Rivalry broadcast.
“It’s not two-hand touch,” the award-winning announcer said.
Certain, Wednesday’s game was not for the faint of heart as the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs went after each other as if contempt between the Original Six rivals had been brewing for years.
“Yeah, you feel like you’re playing them almost … I don’t know, you’re just playing them a lot, I guess, and I know we have another big game there on Saturday,” center Riley Sheahan said. “That will be huge for us. The rivalry is going, and the game obviously was physical tonight and it will probably carryover to Saturday.”
The Red Wings were definitely the more dominant team at Joe Louis Arena Wednesday. But the Leafs – who were badly outshot, 42-19 – rebounded with a third-period goal and eventually defeated the Wings in a shootout, 2-1.
Between them, the Wings and Leafs registered 61 shots on goal and threw 43 hits in the eighth game since the franchises were united in the Atlantic Division with the league’s realignment last season.
The game resembled football at times, which was evident with the vernacular used by the referees who called Nazem Kardi for clipping in the third period on Luke Glendening, the Red Wings’ center, who once won a high school state football championship as a fullback.
“It was a lot of fun. But that's always when we play (them),” said goalie Jimmy Howard, when describing the intensity displayed by both teams Wednesday. “The atmosphere is always like a playoff atmosphere. It's always fun. You expect that as a player when we get together with them.”
The teams will wind up their season-series when they meet for the fifth and final time this Saturday at Air Canada Centre.
Regardless of the loss, Wings coach Mike Babcock was satisfied with his team’s effort, especially when measuring it against their last loss, a disappointing effort at home to Florida last Tuesday.
“I thought we played good,” Babcock said. “(But) it’s over with to me. We got a point. They stole two points but I’ll take it every night. If you play like that you’re going to win.”
By getting a point, the Red Wings slipped past Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay to take sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference by one point.
“Getting points is good when you can get them,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “Obviously we wanted two here at home, but one point is better than no points. If you look how the game ended with a 3-on-4 (penalty kill) there for almost a minute I think we’re going to be OK with this tomorrow and move on.”
Puck-possession was key for the Red Wings, who controlled the tempo and pace of the game from the start.
The Wings were on top of Leafs goalie James Reimer for much of the game, but they didn’t take advantage of several rebounds that he left around the crease. Stephen Weiss had two chances and Darren Helm had another late in the second period, but Reimer either recovered in time, or as was the case on one of Weiss’s first-period opportunities, defenseman Dion Phaneuf cleared the puck out of harm’s way.
“We just have to bear down when we have our chances,” Zetterberg said. “We had a few there, the puck was lying in front. We just have to be a little harder out in front and the puck will go in.”
The Red Wings’ penalty kill unit was stellar again Wednesday stopping all four man-advantage chances that the Leafs had, including a 5-on-3 for 59 seconds of the second period, as well as a 4-on-3 in overtime.
“It did an excellent job once again,” said Howard, who stopped 18 shots. “That's been probably the most consistent aspects of our game all season long. They continue to do a great job out there.”
The Red Wings killed off 59 seconds of a Leafs’ two-man advantage late in the second, limiting the visitors to one shot on goal – a harmless one at that – from the left point by Phaneuf, which Howard saw all the way into his catching glove.
Detroit finally solved Reimer, who stopped Tomas Jurco’s one-timer from Zetterberg’s cross-ice pass, but the Leafs’ goalie left another big, juicy rebound out in front for Gustav Nyquist, who pounced on it to give the Red Wings the first score of the game at 17:52 of the middle frame.
Jurco made a great play to gain inside position leveling a check on Lupul along the half wall. With the Leafs’ forward sprawled on the ice, Jurco raced to the net where he tipped Zetterberg’s diagonal cross-ice pass from the left point
“Jurco was strong with the puck. He won a lot of battles,” Zetterberg said. “He won a battle in the corner, was open, got the puck and Gus was there for the rebound. It was fun to see.”
If nothing else, fans of the Wings and Leafs can rest assured that this Original Six rivalry is alive and well heading into Saturday’s game.
“You just feed off the fans' intensity,” Howard said. “You really don't understand what they're saying but you can feel their energy. It makes it for a fun atmosphere.”