How winning ‘critical game’ reinforces the identity the Detroit Red Wings need

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings can head south with a measure of confidence earned having beaten one of the elite teams in the NHL.

Their performance Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes yielded a 4-3 victory in overtime, when rookies Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider teamed up to ensure a celebration with eight seconds remaining. But it wasn’t just how they finished, it was how the Wings got there.

“I think the biggest thing is we worked and we competed,” goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic said. “They’re a very hard-working team, they come to play every single night, and it’s not always pretty the way that those guys play the game over there, and I think tonight we matched it. I think we were honestly a little bit better than them at certain points. We outworked them, we out hustled them a little bit and I think probably frustrated them.

“That’s the way we have to play going forward. We have to outwork the other team. We have enough skill in that room that pucks will start going in and we’ll start putting up three, four, five goals consistently. We just have to work and earn our chances, earn those bounces.”

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The Wings (24-24-6) responded to a terrible defensive performance against the Maple Leafs in Saturday’s 10-7 loss with a solid defensive effort. When the Hurricanes scored first, and when they scored to go up 3-2 with four minutes left in the third period, there was no panic. Instead there were goals from the fourth line (Carter Rowney), third line (Michael Rasmussen) and first line (Dylan Larkin).

“Everybody has been contributing and that’s what happens when you get that kind of compete and that kind of effort from everybody,” Nedeljkovic said. ” Everybody seems to find a way to chip in, whether It’s on the score sheet or making a big block or just having a good solid shift. We can build off that. It’s tough when maybe you don’t have one line going or when guys are just kind of like half-in, half-out. It’s really tough to build momentum that way. I think we did a good job all four lines, all six D were ready to go, ready to work.”

It was important for Nedeljkovic, collecting his first victory since Feb. 9.

“Alex needed to get his confidence and swagger back,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “I thought it was a critical game for our team, and a critical game for him.

“We needed to get some confidence back, some swagger, and I thought we did a good job of that. Being able to go toe-to-toe against a really good team and finding a way to win hopefully injects that confidence back. I thought when we left New York we had it and then we had a long break and we lost a couple games that were high scoring and we lost it.”

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Blashill said Monday the Wings haven’t had the defensive identity they need to have to be successful all season. They’re able to score more than they have in recent seasons, but not enough to sustain a hope of earning a wildcard without tightening up defensively. So after losses to the Colorado Avalanche and Leafs, it was encouraging to play so well against the Canes.

“We defended pretty well,” Blashill said. “We competed extremely hard. We created chances against a good defensive team, we defended pretty well overall, we got good goaltending when it mattered, and that’s how you find a way to win.”

Nedeljkovic called it a game the Wings can build off. They’re going to need to do so, because later this week the Wings face another pair of elite teams on the road, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers.

“There’s a lot of good teams in front of us, there’s a lot of good teams that we’re going to play on the schedule the rest of the way,” Nedeljkovic said. “This is how you have to play. We have to play playoff hockey now. We can’t wait a few more games and see what kind of happens with the rest of the league. We’ve got some ground to make up and we need to start playing like we’re playing game seven every single night.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.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 AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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