DETROIT — When the hockey gods give you a gift like they gave the Red Wings Saturday night, you’d better not waste it.
For one night, the Wings did not.
What they do with the rest of their season remains to be seen.
The Wings snapped their two-game goalless drought when captain Henrik Zetterberg scored on a nifty pass from Gustav Nyquist at 9:47 of the second period, just 41 seconds after the Los Angeles Kings had taken a 1-0 lead.
But that is not the tying goal that everyone will be talking about.
The Kings had taken a 2-1 lead on Jeff Carter’s power-play goal with 2:15 left in the third after Niklas Kronwall had been called for holding.
The Kings gave the Wings a power-play opportunity and the Wings pulled goaltender Jimmy Howard for a 6-on-4 chance.
With 26.1 seconds left, Kronwall fired a shot from the point that hit the mesh above the Kings net.
The officials apparently did not see it, did not blow the whistle and the puck fell, hit Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in the back and fell into the net.
It was ruled a goal and was non-reviewable because none of the officials blew the whistle.
"I didn’t know where it went," Kronwall said. "Skating around the ice right after and all of a sudden the puck was in their net and nobody really knew what to think. I think everyone thought it went off the mesh and came back for some reason. But they called it a goal, and you know what, at this stage we’ll take it."
Quick was matter-of-fact after the fact.
"On the video, you could see it. It’s clear, but non-reviewable," Quick said. "They get a goal that shouldn’t have been a goal. I’m sure we’ll get one back here in the future. It’s the way it works. Sometimes you get the bounce, sometimes you don’t."
Quick’s coach, Darryl Sutter, was far less even-keeled about the matter.
"That’s embarrassing for the league," Sutter said. "It doesn’t matter if we would’ve scored it or they scored it. That’s embarrassing.
"They could see the puck when Dwight King covered it with his hand, but they couldn’t see it when it went over the barn and came back in."
The league released a statement on NHL.com about the matter.
"Video of the play appears to show the puck hitting the protective mesh above the glass before deflecting off goaltender Jonathan Quick and into the Los Angeles net. While the Situation Room examined the video, this is not a reviewable play; therefore the referee’s call on the ice stands."
No one scored in overtime and fittingly, Tomas Tatar scored the only shootout goal for a 3-2 Wings victory, only their seventh home win of the season (7-10-7).
Tatar was playing in his first game since returning from his father’s funeral in Slovakia.
"I’m so happy we won and won in a shootout and a home game," Tatar said. "Obviously I was happy I scored and made up for the Winter Classic attempt. I think fans deserve it, the team deserve it."
Certainly Tatar deserves it after the week he’s been through.
"I think hockey for me right now is real helpful," Tatar said. "There’s a time for that at home when I talk to my family. Right now as soon as I get to the rink, I try to focus just for hockey."
With 1-0 losses in their previous two games, the Wings had fallen to 12th in the Eastern Conference race.
Of course, part of that is due to the legion of Wings who are injured: Pavel Datsyuk (lower body), Daniel Alfredsson (back spasms), Johan Franzen (concussion), Stephen Weiss (sports hernia surgery), Darren Helm (groin), Jonathan Ericsson (ribs), Jonas Gustavsson (groin) and Joakim Andersson (lower body).
The way things have been going, the Wings could not afford to let two more points slip away.
“Huge win for us," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "Our goaltender played real well, we competed real hard. We’ve been competing hard and playing with good structure for a long time and haven’t been rewarded for it. Tonight, we got a good break and were rewarded for it.”
The Wings now have 52 points and are tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals and are just one point ahead of the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils.
The hockey gods offered the Wings a gift and they need to take advantage of it, not just for one game but for the rest of the season or else their 22 straight seasons of making the playoffs could end.