Detroit — Red Wings fans at Little Caesars Arena went home Thursday thoroughly entertained.
The Red Wings lost 6-5 to the Minnesota Wild in the shootout, and they’ve been doing a lot of that lately (losing). But all the extracurricular activities that happened made for quite a fun hockey atmosphere, and this particular night the Wings didn’t wilt.
Especially the last two games, the Wings sank after falling behind early. Against Minnesota, the Wings fought back all night — literally and figuratively.
“It was better,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “Competitiveness, we won battles, we stuck together. I really liked that Blash (coach Jeff Blashill) challenged us, we had a hard practice and our compete level was much better.”
Minnesota won the shootout 2-0, with Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Fiala scoring, while Jakub Vrana and Larkin missed for the Wings.
But after some dismal hockey the last two games, the Wings easily could have had two points in this game.
“One of the things we talked about going in is making sure that we handled the emotional ups and downs,” Blashill said. “There are things that happen that won’t be good and we’ll have to withstand that. We did a good job of that.
“We responded, and that’ll be critically important as we move forward that we have the mental toughness and show the type of fight that we’ll do everything possible to win the hockey game.”
Wild star forward Kirill Kaprizov scored his 29th goal in the third period, breaking a 4-4 tie. Kaprizov was knocked down twice by Moritz Seider on the shift, but persisted, went to the net, and knocked in a rebound.
But Jordan Oesterle tied it 5-5 with his second goal, converting a fine set up by Filip Zadina, who sped down the ice, circled the net, and found Oesterle near the dot.
Lucas Raymond and Vrana each had two goals, as the Wings (24-27-7) lost their fourth consecutive game and sixth in the last seven.
It was quite a memorable night for goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic. It’s not often that a goaltender can say he had a Gordie Howe Hat Trick (goal, assist, fight) but Nedeljkovic had one (indirectly).
Nedeljkovic knocked a puck past himself in the first period that’ll be on every blooper reel for eternity, then assisted on Raymond’s first goal, later in the period.
To cap the hat trick, of sorts, Nedeljkovic was heavily involved in a melee that ended the second period, swinging wildly at Wild forward Jordan Greenway. Wild goaltender Cam Talbot skated the length of the ice to get at Nedeljkovic, though both did more pushing and shoving than throwing fists.
Nedeljkovic responded well after the unfortunate goal allowed on himself.
“When a goalie makes a mistake it’s very visible,” Blashill said. “But we made a lot of mistakes tonight and the goalie is the one who has to bail us out. It was good mental toughness by him and our team sticking together.”
During the melee, Raymond suffered a cut and needed stitches between periods after getting his head banged on the ice by the Wild’s Matt Dumba.
The Wings took exception to the treatment toward Raymond.
“It was unfortunate one of our guys got slammed to the ice and was bleeding from the head and luckily he’s OK,” Larkin said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
Nick Leddy had three assists, including both Raymond goals, in his best game as a Red Wing — just in time for the March 21 trade deadline — but the Wings could never grab control of the game.
The start wasn’t what the Wings started at all.
Boldy scored his 10th goal just 1:37 into the game, capping a fine passing play by the Wild line by ripping a shot past Nedeljkovic, giving the Wild a 1-0 lead.
But Vrana tied it with his first goal of the evening. Vrana won a puck battle in the corner, skated to the dot, and laced a shot by Talbot at 6:14.
Then the Nedeljkovic blooper occurred.
Nedeljkovic attempted to bat away a bouncing puck, and wound up knocking the puck through his legs at 12:07 of the first period, giving Minnesota a 2-1 lead (goal credited to Joel Eriksson Ek, his 18th).
Nedeljkovic drew an assist on Raymond’s game-tying goal, making it 2-2. Leddy made a dazzling spin move to get free at the point, then passed to Raymond, who snapped a shot from the dot at 14:09.
“It was a point of emphasis to stick with it and they get one early and we responded,” Larkin said. “The last couple of games we really sank when the other team scored first and early and I’m really proud of the guys we stuck in there.”
Vrana’s second goal, on the power play, gave the Wings a 3-2 lead to end the period.
Filip Hronek made the key play, threading a pass to Vrana near the goal-line. Vrana batted a shot that got past Talbot for Vrana’s second goal of the night and third in two games since his return.
Vrana showed an ability, a knack, to score goals in a short period of time last season upon his arrival from Washington in the Anthony Mantha trade (eight goals in 11 games).
Vrana has picked up where he left off, showing a goal-scorer’s touch.
“Both of his (goals) are just a good example that he’s a pure shooter,” Blashill said. “He can score. He has a great release and he can really score. There are parts of his game that need to get better but he can really score, and he was better tonight.”
The Wings lost forward Robby Fabbri a lower-body injury in the second period. He did not return for the final period, and Blashill expects to have a further update Friday.
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