Gustav Nyquist has helped push the Detroit Red Wings past the Columbus Blue Jackets, among others, and into playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
Nyquist and the Red Wings try to avoid swapping spots with the Blue Jackets in a matchup that will decide the season series Tuesday night in Columbus.
Detroit (33-24-14) is 3-0-1 since last Monday to move from 10th in the East to seventh, in position for a wild-card berth. That’s where the Blue Jackets (36-29-6) were at this time last week, but losses in two straight and three of four have dropped them to 10th.
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Columbus is two points behind the Red Wings and Toronto for the wild-card spots but owns the regulation wins tiebreaker over both as well as ninth-place Washington.
"It’s hard this time of year getting that intensity level up every single night and we don’t have it at a high enough level, and we are paying for it," coach Todd Richards said. "This time of year, the desperation is what we need to have."
The Red Wings feel similarly with their next five games coming against fellow East teams battling for playoff spots.
"These are huge (games) and this is what it’s going to come down to and who is going to make the playoffs," Nyquist told the team’s official website. "… That’s pretty much going to decide who’s gonna be in."
Nyquist didn’t make Detroit’s season-opening roster but has become a key figure with stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg still sidelined. Named the NHL’s first star of the week, Nyquist has scored in five straight games while totaling seven goals.
He assisted on Daniel Alfredsson’s last-second overtime goal against Pittsburgh on Thursday, scored the winner in the third period of a 3-2 victory in Minnesota on Saturday and had two goals in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Wild on Sunday.
His 18 goals in 23 games since Jan. 20 are the most in the league. He scored only nine in his first 63 NHL games.
"Well, I’ve been playing with great players so I’ve been getting a lot of opportunities out there to shoot the puck in good areas and getting great passes," Nyquist said. "So that’s the reason behind it and obviously I’m getting good deflections, too. I’ve had some good bounces for some goals, so that’s fun to see."
Nyquist and his teammates, though, have struggled against Sergei Bobrovsky, and the reigning Vezina Trophy is playing well. He stopped 39 shots in a 4-2 home win over the Red Wings on March 12 as part of an eight-game stretch during which he’s posted a 1.80 goals-against average. A 2-1 loss in Detroit on Oct. 15 is the only defeat in his last five starts against them, and he’s recorded a 1.38 GAA in that span.
While Bobrovsky’s play hasn’t been an issue for the Blue Jackets, a lack of offense has. They’ve scored five goals in the last four games, and Sunday’s 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders was the first time they have been shut out since Nov. 27.
"There is no time to rant and rave," forward Brandon Dubinsky said. "We’ve got to be ready to go for our next game.
"We certainly need to be a lot better than we were (against New York)."
A big problem for Columbus has been the power play, which is 0 for 35 in the past nine games. Conversely, Detroit has scored on three of four power-play chances in its last two games.