By Ashley Dunkak
JOE LOUIS ARENA (CBS DETROIT) – Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, the NHL points leader and a player to whom others regularly point as one of the best in the world, said early Thursday that the Detroit Red Wings would be desperate. They played like it Thursday night, gutting out a 5-4 win in a game that could have broken them.
The injury-ravaged team to whom Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith had jokingly referred to as the “Grand Rapids Red Wings” built a 2-0 lead early against the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins, with fans lustily booing Crosby every time he touched the puck. At the end of the second period, the Penguins scored three goals in three minutes, taking a 3-2 lead into the third period.
The Red Wings scored twice, tying the game and then retaking the lead before Pittsburgh again found the back of the net. With 3:46 remaining in regulation, David Legwand got penalized five minutes, giving the Penguins – and by default Crosby and fellow star Evgeni Malkin, who already had two goals on the night – a power play that would extend into overtime.
Pittsburgh’s power play is one of the best in the NHL, tied for first place with a 23.9 percent success rate. Not only did the Red Wings keep the Penguins from scoring, but 41-year-old Daniel Alfredsson scored with four-tenths of a second left in overtime, igniting a celebration and giving Detroit two desperately needed points.
“You do a lot of good things, you get lucky, and we’ve been on the other side a lot of times,” Alfredsson said. “This time it feels great to pull out a big win tonight against a good team.
“We went through an emotional roller coaster with the game today, back and forth, and obviously our penalty kill came up huge for us down the stretch, gave us a chance, and we got a good break at the end.”
The performance of Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard mirrored that of the team. He started strong, went through a remarkably rough stretch at the end of the second period and then scrapped like mad to keep the game even until Alfredsson ended it. Howard weathered 43 shots throughout the game, and he turned away all but four of them.
“Especially down the stretch, phenomenal,” Alfredsson said. “They had some really good looks on the power play where he came up huge. It’s great to see that he’s getting some confidence or playing with confidence. He’s going to be very important going forward.”
The Red Wings now have 77 points in the standings, still one point behind the New York Rangers for the last wild card spot in the East. Whether Detroit makes it to the postseason or not, the play on the ice showed that the Red Wings are living up to their platitude about treating every game now like a playoff game.
Thursday’s win seemed to reinforce the possibility of the Wings getting into the postseason, but it had its less-than-ideal moments. Niklas Kronwall looked wiped after the game, evidently a little vexed that the Red Wings took so long to put it away.
“I thought we had some great chances to go up three-nothing,” Kronwall said. “Instead, for whatever reason, we kind of spotted them a few goals, then all of a sudden they’re up 3-2.
“It’s easy to get on your heels a bit,” Kronwall added. “You’re up two-nothing and things are looking pretty good, and all of a sudden they get kind of fluke-y goal, and then all of a sudden here they come. We have to do a better job of staying composed, a little bit better than we did, but right now we found a way to get two points, and that’s all that matters at this point.”
Despite the team’s shortcomings at different moments, Kronwall pointed to the group’s resilience as a good sign.
“I thought we showed a lot of character,” Kronwall said. “We didn’t give up. We just kept sticking with it and found a way to battle back.
“When we trust and play with the structure that we can, we’re a good team, and we’re going to fix this, and we’ll be in good shape,” Kronwall added. “Believe in the system. Just keep doing what we do, and we’ll be just fine.”
The team celebrated on the ice, and after the officials confirmed the goal, Joe Louis Arena erupted. Loud music pumped from the locker room as media entered, though the tunes were politely turned down moments later. The place had all but emptied already, with some players whisked away to the training table and others already back in the weight room, where the chains hanging off the bench press bar clanged in announcement of each repetition.
Like his players, head coach Mike Babcock did not put too much stock in the win over the Penguins and what it means for what still lies ahead for Detroit, but he agreed the competition made the victory a meaningful one.
“When you look at their lineup, obviously, they’ve got four forwards there that are world-class,” Babcock said. “You know you’re going to have your hands full tonight. If you’d have told me we were going to win by this score today, I would have said 2-1, yeah, but not this way. So a good win for our team.”