WASHINGTON — These Detroit Red Wings believe in themselves, believe they are a better team, believe they can win.
They return home for a brief appearance Friday against the Florida Panthers riding a two-game winning streak. Wednesday’s game against the Washington Capitals was the best demonstration yet of how different the Wings are from the previous two seasons: Down by a pair of goals early in the second period, there was no panic, just patience. The reward was a 3-2 overtime victory.
“That’s the difference for us, is winning these tight games,” forward Adam Erne said after contributing a goal and an assist. “It shows a lot of character. It’s a highly skilled team with a lot of big names, and we just stuck with it, stuck to the game plan and eventually it paid off.”
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Another good example came in the season’s third game, in which the Wings outplayed the Columbus Blue Jackets the first two periods but were stymied by the goaltender. In the past, that scenario would have seen the Blue Jackets score on a fluke and win. This season, the Wings kept working and banked two points.
“We’ve been in situations where we found our way to wins, and that breeds confidence,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “That’s part of it. We have some guys that have matured over the years in terms of living through that. As hard as some of those moments are to live, you hope you grow. A number of our guys have grown even through some of the difficulties we’ve faced. And then we have some new faces that have a calm demeanor to them, and just kind of keep playing.”
Dylan Larkin’s line with Lucas Raymond and Tyler Bertuzzi has been phenomenal, but there’s enough depth to roll four lines. Blashill moved Erne up to play with Robby Fabbri and Pius Suter; that paid off with a goal from Fabbri. Moving Filip Zadina to Michael Rasmussen’s line with Vladislav Namestnikov added more scoring dimension to that group.
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Adding veterans Marc Staal, Nick Leddy and Sam Gagner, and getting back Danny DeKeyser, has helped. So has adding a pair of rookies in Raymond and Moritz Seider, who assisted on Dylan Larkin’s overtime goal.
“The more talent you have, the more you can stay in games, partially because then you can do things like have good shifts, create scoring chances, to stem the momentum,” Blashill said. “If all you’re doing is just defending the whole time, the momentum just keeps riding the other way.
“We have guys that believe that we can go out and turn the tide. I think over the last couple years we’ve added some guys that are calm. Certainly DeKeyser has always been a calm player, but Staalsie is calm, Leddy is calm. Gagner is calm. They’re really good veterans to have on your bench and just relax and let’s play. I also think there’s been growth with a number of our guys that have been around here — Larks, Bert, Fabbs, those guys keep their emotional control way better than maybe we did two years ago. Between that belief, and just that sense of calmness that we’re just going to keep staying with it and keep playing good hockey.”
Goalie Thomas Greiss was excellent in the third period, denying all 10 shots and following up with a save in overtime. On Sunday in Chicago, it was Alex Nedeljkovic who had a huge third period in net in a 6-3 victory.
“It’s hard to win in this league without really good goaltending, it’s the reality,” Blashill said. “Look at the defending Stanley Cup back-to-back champions (Tampa Bay Lightning), they have probably the best in the league — they’re a great team, but they need really good goaltending, too. We are going to need that as well, and Greisser stepped up big in the third.”
It has only been seven games, but the way the Wings have been playing has impressed. Other than a 6-1 loss at Montreal, the performances have been marked by hard work and competitiveness.
“It just comes down to winning the tight games,” Erne said. “That’s what it comes down to at the end of the year. There’s usually a pretty tight-knit bunch of teams that are fighting for the last couple spots, and one point could be the difference. I think a big thing for us is just winning those tight games, and that’s going to tell us a lot about how we’re going to be as a team.”
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.