DETROIT – Tuesday’s game was perhaps the most important November game that the Red Wings have played in years.
Seeking to break a four-game losing streak, coach Mike Babcock shuffled his forward lines and even called up first-year pro Gustav Nyquist to bring some much-needed energy to an offense that had scored four goals in the past five games.
But in the end, the Minnesota Wild, and its captain Mikko Koivu, who scored a last-minute equalizing goal, claimed a 2-1 overtime victory at Joe Louis Arena.
“We think we got a good team but the bottom line is we got to play like we got a good team and you got to play for 60 minutes,” Babcock said. “We got off to a real good start, played well, you got to give (Wild goalie Josh) Harding a lot of credit, he's played well against us, stood on his head. You got to stay with it, find ways to win games.”
The Wings’ frustration was evident when they gave the Wild eight power-play opportunities. The Wings had several uncharacteristic calls, including minors for charging, cross-checking, slashing and two for goaltender interference.
“It's ridiculous, right?” Babcock said. “There's a number of penalties we didn't need, even the too man men on the ice penalty. We're not helping ourselves right now. We got off to a good start, we've lost five games in a row. We got a point tonight but the reality is we're not being good enough. We're going to have to fix it.”
Intensity was the name of the Wings’ game to start the opening period. With great energy, the Wings carried the tempo, getting six shots on Harding before the Minnesota squad managed to fire its first of the game.
Even though the Wings carried the 5-on-5 play early, Harding was unbeatable – that is until Detroit went on its first power-play of the night. With defenseman Marek Zidlicky gone to the penalty box for tripping Henrik Zetterberg at 3:59, the Wings’ first power-play unit reaped the benefit of some hard work to take a 1-0 lead at 6:00.
As the finals seconds ticked off of Zidlicky’s penalty, Pavel Datsyuk cycled the puck to the left of Harding, and made a cross-ice pass to Zetterberg on the right wing. And just as Zedlicky exited the box, Zetterberg flick an ice-level pass from the right circle to Nicklas Lidstrom, who had worked his way into the low slot, re-directed the puck past Harding.
The Wings continued to dominate the first frame. However, their penalty-kill unit was pressed into service when they had to kill off back-to-back penalties with forwards Drew Miller (interference) and Valtteri Filppula (tripping) whistled for minor infractions a few minutes apart.
When the Wild did gain possession of the puck, the Wings’ defense caused all sorts of problems for the visitors, jumping into the shooting lanes and blocking seven shots with Jonathan Ericsson and Brad Stuart collecting two blocks each.
Paced by Lidstrom’s three shots, the Wings outshot the Wild, 12-4, in the opening period.
The Wild picked up the pace in the period, and in doing so managed to stymie the Wings’ offensive conformity that they had established during the first 20-minutes.
The Wings had to play much of the period in their own end, and it certainly didn’t help the cause much either that Minnesota had two more power-play chances. Fortunately, the Wings were successful in killing them, and pushing the Wild to 0-for-4 on the night, and 0-fer their last 24 man-advantages.
“It hurt us being in the box, especially in the second period,” Lidstrom said. “They got some momentum with being on the power-play. And we were spending way too much time in the box. In the end, whether they are (good) calls or not, it’s still us in the box, and that’s what’s hurting us.”
Because of the imbalance, the Wild outshot Detroit, 12-9, in the second period.
There was more action in the final 16-minutes of this period than there was in the rest of the game. But the Wings gave the Wild more opportunities to start the final 20-minutes.
First, Bertuzzi earned a minor penalty when he whacked Devin Setoguchi, breaking the forward’s stick near the Wings’ bench. And just 36-seconds, the Wild went on a 5-on-3 power-play for 1:24 when Miller received a charging penalty for crashing into Harding as the goalie tried to play the puck behind his net at 4:44.
But the Wings put on a clinic by stifling the Wild. Nicklas Kronwall, Datsyuk and Stuart ran the penalty-kill triangle to perfection, working as a cohesive unit that limited quality chances.
Still, the chances that the Wild did put together, Howard had clear looks at, including two outstanding saves on Koivu, and another by Pierre-Marc Bouchard, stopping all three shots with his left pad. And when it wasn’t Howard making pad saves, it was Stuart sacrificing the body and getting in from of a shot by center Matt Cullen, which staggered the Wings’ defenseman.
The Wings killed off the two-man advantage, drawing a standing ovation from the JLA crowd. The kill also seemed to rejuvenate the Wings’ players, who fed off the energy in the building.
“I thought our penalty kill was outstanding,” Babcock said. “I thought Howie did a good job on the 5-on-3, but you can't continue to go to the penalty box. Whether you like what the referee called or didn't call, you got to take responsibility for what you do on the ice and putting your team shorthanded.”
The momentum clearly favored the Wings, who moments later, had a great chance to add to their lead when Patrick Eaves skated in on a breakaway, but Harding stopped him. The Wings had another chance when they pounced on a Minnesota mistake in the neutral zone during a line chance. Justin Abdelkader wheeled back to pick-up a loose puck and moved in alone on Harding, but the Wild goalie made a spectacular glove save.
The teams exchanged a pair of power-play chances in the final five-minutes of regulation, but nothing came of them.
However, after the Wild summoned Harding to the bench for a sixth attacker, they got the equalizer when Koivu scored on a re-direction shot by Justin Falk from the point.
The Wings had their best chance to win it when Danny Cleary swept a shot from close range off a rebound as he was falling. But Harding made his 36th save of the night.
Not long after, the Wild went on their eight power-play when with 3:51 left, Franzen interfered with their goalie.
The Wild’s captain set-up the game-winner on a controversial play. Koivu battled Kronwall for the puck low in the Wings’ zone. With his back to Kronwall, Koivu created space between him and the Wings’ defenseman when he threw a right elbow that contacted, sending Kronwall to the ice. It appeared that Kronwall struck the back of his head off the ice. He was unavailable after the game.
The play gave Koivu space to walk in and dish a pass to Setoguchi, who beat Howard with the game-winner.
“It’s a tough lose, especially with being up for pretty much the whole game,” Lidstrom said. “They get that power-play in overtime. Things didn’t go our way. I thought we did battle hard, especially in the first period, but then they kind of took the game over in the third. We still had some chances on our power-play, but we couldn’t get that second goal.”