DETROIT — If NBC had a choice, they’d probably like to have the Red Wings and Blackhawks play every week.
Saturday afternoon’s game pitted the two Central Division rivals in the third meeting of the season in front of a sellout crowd at Joe Louis Arena, a crowd that included Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko.
Like the previous two games, this one ended with a 3-2 score, with the Wings needing overtime to win.
Todd Bertuzzi netted the game-winner, his second goal of the game, on a rebound at 4:21 of overtime.
“I think we did a good job holding onto the puck and me and Fil
(Valtteri Filppula) played a little bit tic-tac down low and it was a
good play by Fil getting it on net,” Bertuzzi said. “I think there was a
lot of movement so I ended up getting open in the slot. Nice for it to
The Wings (28-15-1) now have 57 points, leapfrogging the St. Louis Blues
(who host the Minnesota Wild later) for second in the division. The
Blackhawks (26-13-6) lead the division by one point, the point they
earned for taking the game to overtime.
“It’s almost as close as you can get to playoff atmosphere in midseason,” said Wings captain Nick Lidstrom, a veteran of two decades of games against the Blackhawks. “Two strong teams, right up there in the standings. We’ve got a great rivalry going. It’s always fun to play them.”
The game had a little bit of everything — each team dominating at some point, power plays, penalty kills, insane passing, strange bounces, last-minute comebacks and overtime heroics.
But it wasn’t until there was less than a minute to go and the Hawks had
pulled goalie Corey Crawford that they tied the game. Former
Wing Marian Hossa fired the puck from the point and it went off defenseman Nicklas
Lidstrom’s skate into the net.
“Hossa got a shot through and I
think it went off my skate,” Lidstrom said. “I don’t know if hit
anything else after that. I know they were just trying to get pucks to
the net, all I was trying to do was block it and wasn’t able to.”
The home team started the game looking very much like the team that came in with a 13-game home winning streak, outshooting the Blackhawks 21-4 in the first period.
The Wings scored twice in their dominant first, a power-play goal by Tomas Holmstrom and a breakaway backhand by Bertuzzi off a pretty pass from — who else — Pavel Datsyuk.
“Not too many people could have seen me coming off the bench and seen a red stripe fly through and end up hitting me on the fly, so it’s a great play by him,” said Bertuzzi, who returned after missing one game with a back issue. “It was nice to put that one in early.”
The Blackhawks found some life in the second, courtesy of the lively boards. Goaltender Jimmy Howard was behind the net to play the puck when it hit the boards and hopped over his stick to a waiting Andrew Shaw.
“I don’t know what happened,” Howard said. “Stewie’s (Brad Stuart) stick got caught in the Zamboni door a couple of seconds before and the next thing you know, I went behind to stop it for Stew and it hit the same spot and went between me and net. Just a crappy break for us.”
Then the Blackhawks came out in the third like the Wings did in the first, dominating play and spending all their time in the Wings’ zone, out-shooting the Wings 16-5 in the period. The late goal was the exclamation point on the period.
The Wings regained their composure and dominated overtime, peppering Crawford with nine shots, while allowing none, and then Bertuzzi scored.
Although the game had some odd ebbs and flows in terms of which team was carrying the play at which time, it was an exciting game to watch and for the players to be in.
“They’re fun,” Howard said. “Two great teams. We play similar styles, both teams like to get up and go, get on opposing teams’ D. It’s tough game for the D to play but at the same time they’re a lot of fun. We feed off the energy of the crowds.”
Ian White, who had two assists, is new to the rivalry but has already gained an appreciation for it.
“It’s been unreal,” White said. “Couldn’t write a better script. It’s been lots of fun so far.”
Bertuzzi wasn’t about to miss it, not even with a sore back.
“I think the level of competition is always high,” Bertuzzi said. “It’s the speed, it’s a fast, fast game. I think that’s when our top players usually step up and do it — Pav, Z (Henrik Zetterberg) and Fil and those kind of guys. It’s fun to be a part of.”
There are three more regular-season games between these teams: Feb. 21 in Chicago, March 4 in Detroit and April 7 in Detroit to end the regular season schedule.
It’s only been in the last few years that the Blackhawks have become competitive enough to challenge the Wings again.
“I think it makes it a stronger rivalry, especially when both are battling for spots in the standings, for points to move up in the standings,” Lidstrom said.
The Wings and Blackhawks last played each other in the playoffs in 2009, a five-game series that the Wings won. When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, they did not face the Wings.
It would certainly liven up the postseason if these two rivals were to meet.