Joe Veleno showed what he can do with the puck, and Jakub Vrana continued to make Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman look smart.
Vrana set up Veleno for his first NHL goal Friday at Nationwide Arena and then scored one of his own as the Wings played the first of back-to-back games against the Columbus Blue Jackets to wrap up their season.
The Wings rallied from a two-goal deficit to win, 5-2.
“It was a great second period,” Veleno said. “We didn’t have the greatest of starts but we found a way to bear down and put it in the back of the net. It was a good effort from all the guys on the team.”
The victory puts the Wings (19-27-9) within reach of 20 victories. Last season, they finished with 17 wins in 71 games.
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The Wings were behind 2-0 when Veleno scored at 13:50 of the second period. Gavin Bayreuther scored for the Blue Jackets less than two minutes in when his shot hit Michael Rasmussen and bounced past goalie Thomas Greiss, and Nathan Gerbe stuffed a backhand in on a breakaway at 7:48 of the second period.
Danny DeKeyser scored less than a minute after Veleno did. Mathias Brome fired a shot that deflected around the back of the net and out to DeKeyser, whose shot knuckled behind Columbus goalie Matiss Kivlenieks. Vrana then scored on a one-timer at 16:52.
“We stayed with it, that’s the biggest thing,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We’ve got a good character group. We didn’t seem to have our game going early, and we got better as it went along. Scoring changes momentum, and so it was big to score.”
Vladislav Namestnikov scored into an empty net with 2:02 to play — and then again with 48 seconds to go.
Veleno scores first goal
Veleno, a first-round pick from 2018, netted his first NHL goal on a power play. Vrana had the puck at the top of the right circle, with Richard Panik by the net and Sam Gagner roaming near the slot. Vrana wired a pass to Veleno, who put the puck up under the bar and into his memories.
“I just tried to find an open lane and it was a hell of a pass and I was able to get it on and off my stick really quick,” Veleno said. He got the puck, and plans to frame both it and the stick he used.
Veleno has had a good showing since returning from spending the season in Sweden, showing off his strength and skill.
“I’ve worked on my game tons this year and for me to be able to go to Malmo and continue my development over there was really good,” Veleno said. “Now I have (an) opportunity to play in the NHL, and I’m trying to give my best impressions.”
Vrana pours on the points
Since joining the Wings on April 12 in the trade that sent Anthony Mantha to Washington, Vrana has seven goals and two assists in 10 games.
“He’s a really talented player,” Blashill said. “He needs to keep working on his all around game, but he’s a really talented player. He can be a real key addition. What I like most about him is he’s been very receptive to coaching. He wants to get better in those areas that he needs to get better at so he can be out there more.”
Givani Smith appeared in his 16th game of the season, and his first since being returned to Grand Rapids on April 12 following the trade deadline. Smith started the game on a line with fellow youngster Veleno and veteran Sam Gagner. Smith (6-feet-2, 210 pounds) should be in the running for a spot on the Wings next season, given that he has played well when given the chance and would provide some grit.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.