Wings fight for regulation victory over Maple Leafs
DETROIT — The March Madness continues for the Detroit Red Wings, who are nearly out of time and out of players.
It feels like every game is an elimination game as the teams positioned from sixth to 13th in the Eastern Conference fight for those last playoff spots.
The Wings (31-24-13, 75 points, 9th in the East) fought for a 3-2 regulation victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs (36-26-8, 80 points, 5th) at Joe Louis Arena Tuesday night.
Gustav Nyquist scored twice, Daniel Alfredsson once and goaltender Jimmy Howard hung on for 31 saves in front of a loud crowd that seemed divided between Wings and Leafs fans.
"I thought we did a lot of good things," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We started on time, played pretty well. Our first period was real solid, turned the puck over way too many times in the second period and did a pretty good job in the third period. I thought we got a little anxious with the goalie pulled, but all in all pretty good."
Nyquist’s 19 goals increase his team lead over captain Henrik Zetterberg, who has 16 and remains out after back surgery.
"It was nice to get up a couple goals for once," Nyquist said. "Lately we’ve been chasing from behind or playing even in the third so it gave the team a little breathing room. They scored again late that made it interesting, but it was nice to see the guys step up and kill off that 6-on-5.
"A huge win for us, also very important they didn’t get a point too and we got two."
Defenseman Kyle Quincey, who assisted on Nyquist’s first goal, knows that the Wings have had a hard time closing out periods and games.
Part of that is so many young players forced into critical roles at the NHL level.
"I think it’s just playing within yourself," Quincey said. "No one has to step up and be a hero, but everyone has to do their own part. We got a lot of faith in the guys from Grand Rapids so they’re gonna come up and they have a job to do. They’re good players and they have a chance to show what they got."
The injury situation has been pretty bad all season but with just 14 games left and so much on the line, the Wings have managed to lose a player to injury in each of their last six games.
Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, who plays on the top defense pair with Niklas Kronwall, is the latest to go down.
Ericsson left late in the second period with a broken finger which may require surgery to place a pin in it. He’s out 10-14 days.
The Wings started Tuesday night’s game with defenseman Brendan Smith playing forward because Justin Abdelkader suffered a lacerated leg Sunday in Chicago and is out 10-14 days as well.
They also had Landon Ferraro making his NHL debut, the seventh player to make his NHL debut for the Wings this season.
Ferraro held his own on the fourth line, playing 13 shifts for 9:45, including 1:45 on the penalty kill. He had one shot, two hits and a blocked shot.
"We’re missing penalty killers and he did a real good job in that area," Babcock said. "I like his speed. He’s got to get stronger, but he’s quick."
"I thought he did a good job, he played within himself, played his role to a T," Howard said. "That’s what we’re gonna need. He blocked some big shots and it was great to see."
Alfredsson knows that things can get a little crazy with parity in the league and the Wings without their big guns.
"Stay in the present," Alfredsson said. "We have a lot of guys that are learning on the fly and I think it’s important to keep the poise. Coaching staff and us, the veteran players, we lead by example.
"It’s never going to work out perfect, but if you stay calm and you know what you’re doing out there you give yourself a great chance and we did that (Tuesday)."
It does not get any easier as the Pittsburgh Penguins come to town Thursday night. They’re in second place behind the Boston Bruins and would love to try to catch them.
"If you don’t focus on the next game, there is no big picture," Quincey said. "You won’t get in, there’s no chance. It’s gonna be another fun test, you got a couple of the best players in the world coming in here. We’ll see how good our D are and it’ll be exciting playing against those guys. Looking forward to it."