Detroit – The Red Wings couldn’t have scripted a better evening all the way around.
Newcomer Jakub Vrana scored a goal in his debut.
Troy Stecher scored two goals in a game for the first time in his career.
And, for the first time this season, the Red Wings own a three-game win streak.
The Wings took all the positives and rolled them into a 4-1 victory over Chicago on Thursday night at Little Caesars Arena.
It wasn’t perfect — the Red Wings were called for too many men on the ice twice in the second period, and that’s tough to do — but it was a good 60 minutes of hockey for a team that appears to be finding itself (albeit too late in the season).
“We want to build on this as a group,” Stecher said. “Everyone has something to play for, whether it’s ice time, or a future contract, there’s always something to play for. To string three wins in a row, we’re having some fun.
“We’re playing with a purpose and playing for each other. We’re not getting worked up over little mistakes, mistakes are going to happen through a game. The biggest thing is confidence, and having fun.”
Goaltender Thomas Greiss stopped 23 shots, as the Wings (16-23-6) won their third consecutive game, and defeated Chicago for only the second time this season (2-4-1).
Michael Rasmussen, continuing his recent impressive play, capped the scoring with an empty net goal, his third, with a little over a minute left in the game.
“As the game went along we competed harder, our compete level really rose, our shifts in the third (period) were excellent,” coach Jeff Blashill said.
The big news was concerning Vrana, who showed a glimpse of his offensive capability in his first game since being acquired along with Richard Panik (and two draft picks) Monday from Washington for Anthony Mantha.
Vrana was serving the Wings’ first too many men penalty when he jumped out of the box when the penalty expired, took an outlet pass from Gustav Lindstrom, and scored on a breakaway, beating goalie Kevin Lankinen from between the hashmarks.
It was Vrana’s 12th goal of the season, and gave the Wings a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t lose.
Anthony Mantha, incidentally, also scored Thursday in Washington, Mantha’s second goal in two games with the Capitals since the trade.
Vrana also scoring in his debut will surely suppress whatever pressure there is, or was.
“It helps,” Blashill said. “In reality, when you’re a guy who is supposed to be counted on to score and you can get that first one, it just lets you breathe a little bit and the pressure doesn’t mount.
“And it shouldn’t mount, we’re not going to judge him on whether he scores or doesn’t score. We’re going to judge him on his game in totality, but certainly it helps for sure and again, it relaxes you a little bit.
“It was a big moment for him.”
Vrana, the Wings expect to score. But Stecher getting in the goals scored column is somewhat of a revelation.
Stecher scored twice, giving him three goals for the season, in a rare offensive explosion.
Stecher tied the game 1-1 at 4 minutes, 49 seconds of the second period.
With the teams skating four-on-four, Stecher launched a shot off the rush from the dot that hit Lankinen’s glove, popped high into the air, and over the goaltender’s shoulder and into the net.
“I’ll that that shot 99 more times and it won’t go in,” Stecher said. “So I’ll take it. Close my eyes and hope for the best, and it found a way to go in somehow.”
Stecher made it 3-1 with his second goal at 11:15, capping the Wings’ three-goal second period barrage.
Danny DeKeyser found Stecher pinching and fed Stecher near the post, Stecher neatly tucking the puck inside the post.
“A great pass by DK, put it right on my tape,” Stecher said.
The victory over Chicago was a hint of satisfaction for the Wings given the lack of points earned this season against the Blackhawks.
Many analysts had the Blackhawks pegged near the bottom of the Central Division given the gradual shift to a youth movement in Chicago, along with captain Jonathan Toews missing the entire season to an undisclosed illness.
But the Blackhawks (20-19-5) have played better than expected, still fighting for the final playoff spot with three weeks remaining in the season.
Still, give credit to the Wings, who suddenly are correcting matters in a lot of areas, and beginning to really take on the role of spoiler.
“What I like is we’re a way better hockey today than we were at the beginning of the year,” Blashill said. “The growth we’ve seen in a number of players, the growth of the group, I like that we’re playing the type of hockey that we have to play to be successful, and we’re going to keep working at it. The guys are going to keep getting better, and that’s a positive thing for this organization.
“We have 11 games left. We have to better not waste one second of opportunity that we have ahead of us. These are big opportunities every single night you get to play and coach in the NHL. Let’s make sure we make the most of every single second.”