Detroit — After getting their collective manhood challenged by the Canucks and questioned by their own coach, the Red Wings responded.
They came out of the gate like raging bulls, hitting and running over anything in their path and treated themselves to a 5-2 victory over the Predators on Friday.
“We came out flat against Vancouver and didn’t play a very aggressive game,” said Darren Helm, who scored twice. “We knew we had to turn that around and make sure we didn’t make the same mistake twice. These are extremely important games and coming out flat like we did was unacceptable.”
The win, the Wings’ 30th, keeps them in the eighth and final playoff spot and moves them within three points of seventh place Nashville.
“The guys started on time, we were very physical early and I thought our good players were very good,” coach Mike Babcock said. “It was a good win.”
Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom (power play) scored in the first period before Helm broke a 19-game scoring drought with an even-strength and a shorthanded goal — his ninth and 10th.
“Lots of times those pucks aren’t going to go in for me,” Helm said. “Every once in a while they do and it’s nice to be able to help in a key game like this one.”
Henrik Zetterberg finished the scoring with an empty-netter.
“Helmer gave us a good spark tonight,” captain Nick Lidstrom said. “For how hard he works, it’s great to see him get rewarded like that.”
Lidstrom got rewarded, as well. His assist on Holmstrom’s goal in the first period was the 800th of his career. He joins Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman and Gordie Howe as the only Wings to reach that number.
“That is something I am very proud of,” Lidstrom said. “It’s especially good to get it on a night when you are winning.”
It was the Wings’ physical forecheck that set the tone. They had 17 hits in the first period and 32 in all. Niklas Kronwall led the way with six, four in the first. Andreas Lilja and Danny Cleary also had four hits.
“That’s always a point of emphasis for us, we just don’t do it all the time,” Babcock said of the physical play. “We weren’t physical at all against Vancouver. We were the receivers all the time. It was nice to see us respond.”
Datsyuk scored his 18th of the season, picking Predator defenseman Kevin Klein’s pocket at the side of goalie Dan Ellis, then flipping it neatly under the crossbar.
Seven minutes later, with Cal O’Reilly in the penalty box, Holmstrom scored his 17th goal of the season. Datsyuk started the play with a cross-ice pass to Lidstrom. Lidstrom’s shot deflected off Francis Bouillon’s stick right to Holmstrom who knocked into the open net.
Helm went to work after that.
He broke his 19-game drought at 3:35 of the second period. After some hard work by Patrick Eaves kept the puck in the Predators’ zone, Helm caught a deflected pass, dropped it to himself and then, with his momentum pulling him away from the net, fired a high, fluttering shot that seemed to fool Ellis.
Later in the period, while killing a penalty, he broke up a play at the blue line and was sent on a breakaway by Kronwall. His first shot was stopped but he beat Ryan Suter to the rebound and popped it in.
“Helm was probably our best player, start to finish,” Babcock said.
Helm, along with Lilja, Eaves, Drew Miller, Lidstrom and Kronwall, did huge work on the penalty kill. They killed off four Nashville power plays, two in the third after the 4-0 lead was cut in half on goals by J.P. Dumont and Joel Ward.
“We were solid on the PK all night,” Lilja said. “I wasn’t worried at all, to be honest.”
Jimmy Howard rebounded nicely from his poor effort Wednesday. He made a huge save early in the third on a breakaway chance by Steve Sullivan.
“When you have an off-night like I had, the key is to not overdo it, not try to be perfect,” said Howard. “That’s when the floodgates open up.
“I just got out of the blue (crease), made myself big and let the puck hit me.”
The Predators, who had won three straight, lost defenseman Shea Weber after the first period. He was involved in a pile up behind his net. He was pushed to the ice by Holmstrom and then it appeared his left hand was inadvertently stepped on by the skate of Johan Franzen.