By Will Burchfield
@burchie_kid

In a game featuring the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, it was Andreas Athanasiou who provided the most spectacular moment.

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Early in the third period, the 22-year-old speed demon gathered the puck in his own end, roared up ice and through the neutral zone, dangled past defenseman Justin Schultz just inside the blue line and then deftly flicked the puck over Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove to snap a 3-3 tie and lift the Detroit Red Wings to a 6-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It was the goal of the season in the Wing’s win of the season.

“Just picked up the puck and saw some open ice, took the open ice, came over the blue line and it was a one-on-one, so made a move and it worked out,” Athanasiou said, shrugging off a flat-out sensational play. 

“It’s always a nice feeling to watch the puck go in the net,” he added. “So in a 3-3 game like that against a good team, it’s definitely a feel-good moment.” 

Athanasiou’s latest goal was just another reminder of his game-breaking ability.

“The one thing Double-A has, he’s got the ability to break people down and score goals on his own,” said coach Jeff Blashill. “Obviously, he took it end to end and scored the goal on his own. It’s hard to score goals in this league and when you get someone that can self-create and do it on his own, it’s a big thing.”

Athanasiou scored a similar goal earlier this season against the Flyers when he received a pass at center ice, sliced through two defenseman at warp speed and beat goalie Steve Mason with a nifty move in front. Afterward, Gustav Nyquist had this to say: “If he gets the puck in the right area, with his speed, he’ll be dangerous for sure.”

His words proved prophetic on Saturday night. Amazingly, “the right area” was behind Detroit’s net, nearly 200 feet away from an unsuspecting Fleury.

Red Wings’ goalie Jared Coreau, who kicked out 28 shots in the win, had a perfect view of the entire play.

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure if he was getting through (Schultz). I think he lost it a little bit but sometimes the puck goes through guys’ feet and you get some puck luck. And once he gets in close, he’s one of the best at finishing. From that angle to go over the glove, it’s pretty amazing,” Coreau said. “It’s a really good goal.”

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Henrik Zetterberg went one step further and called it “beautiful.”

Sure was.

“He has that skill, he has that speed,” Zetterberg added.

Sure does.

If there’s one thing Athanasiou’s lacking, it’s consistency. Just seven games ago, he was benched in the third period versus the Senators, with Blashill condemning the youngster’s compete level. Two games later, he was scratched.

Since returning to the lineup on Jan. 5 against the Kings, Athanasiou has four goals and seven points in five games. But he resisted the notion that he’s changed his approach.

“No, I don’t think I’ve played different. I stuck to my game plan,” he said. “Not trying to force anything. When they play’s there to make, make it.”

He made it on Saturday night, even though it wasn’t really there.

As Blashill said, “It’s a big goal kind of out of nothing.”

It’s what Athanasiou can do, and why he’s so important to a team that lacks offensive playmakers.

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“He’s always trying stuff and he’s got a lot of skill,” Zetterberg said, “so he’s a fun player to have on your team.”