Detroit — Not many folks probably saw this coming from the Red Wings.
Especially not after the last month of hockey, or much of Tuesday’s first period. But the Red Wings, to their credit, didn’t wilt this time and rallied for a 5-3 victory over the playoff-bound Boston Bruins.
Jakub Vrana’s power-play goal and Sam Gagner’s empty-net goal in the third period were needed bookends, and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic had 47 saves as the Wings earned a much-needed victory.
“What I saw tonight was a level of sacrifice that’s been missing a little bit,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Guys were blocking shots, the compete level was extremely high, and more like it was when we were in the mix of teams (competing for playoffs), and what it should be like when you’re grinding for playoffs.
“We have to continue that approach and sacrifice level.”
Things escalated near the the end of the game, with Dylan Larkin exchanging shoves with Boston’s Brad Marchand late in the third period, and all five skaters on both teams getting involved after the final buzzer.
But, again, the Wings didn’t back down and showed the type of competitiveness that’s been missing.
“I don’t know what happened on that last shift but they were running around and good for our guys to stick up for each other and keeping their heads up,” Larkin said. “It kept escalating and nobody wants to see that, especially with the game over, but I’m proud of our guys for keeping their heads up and keeping their cool.”
Boston’s Patrice Bergeron scored with the goalie pulled at 17:24, cutting the Wings’ lead to 4-3. But Gagner’s empty-net goal regained the two-goal lead, getting a nice outlet pass from Nedeljkovic.
It was a good night for Nedeljkovic, who like the Wings, needed a confidence boost after a recent rough stretch.
“He definitely got into a groove where he felt real good,” Blashill said. “It felt like the puck wasn’t going to go in. That’s when you know your goalie is on top of his game and it felt like he was on top of his game.”
Larkin’s 30th goal, with only 40 seconds left in the first period, cut the Bruins’ lead to 2-1 and gave Wings hope. Michael Rasmussen and Filip Zadina scored second-period goals to give the Wings a 3-2 lead.
The victory ended a six-game winless streak for the Red Wings (27-34-9).
“It wasn’t the best start, we gave up a shorthanded goal which we have to clean up, but we stuck in there and got some timely goals and Ned made some big saves at big times,” Larkin said. “The (penalty) kill was real good. We have to keep the momentum going and rolling.”
Much has been made in recent weeks about the Wings’ faltering confidence, but the way they stuck with it against Boston, after fallling behind 2-0, was admirable.
“That’s a tough thing (trailing 2-0 early) with what we’ve been going through, and it’s easy to fold at that point,” Blashill said. “But we didn’t. We stayed with it and part of that is Ned made some big saves and that’s a big piece of it in this league, making saves at critical moments and he certainly did that.
“But it was important we have that mental toughness. Things go good and bad and you have to stay with it.”
Vrana’s eighth goal, beating goalie Jeremy Swayman short side from the dot, gave the Wings a 4-2 lead at 4:08 of the third period.
The Wings killed two Boston power plays midway in the period (four for the game), maintaining the 4-2 lead and squashing a key opportunity for the Bruins (44-21-5) to rally.
The Wings certainly didn’t inspire confidence after the majority of their first period.
Boston opened the scoring on Erik Haula’s goal.
The Bruins came down on a three-on-two rush, and Taylor Hall found Haula open on the wing. Haula lifted his 13th goal, beating Nedeljkovic high at 4:43.
That hurt, but Brandon Carlo’s shorthanded goal further got the Little Caesars Arena crowd antsy.
The Wings allowed three quality Bruins shots in the opening 33 seconds of the Wings’ power play, and Carlo finally converted with a shot from the high slot, his sixth goal, at 14:17, giving Boston a 2-0 lead.
Getting out-played, the Wings needed something positive and Larkin delivered. Just as a Wings’ power play was expiring, Larkin snapped a shot from the dot that Swayman never saw with Oskar Sundqvist screening.
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The Wings came out roaring in the second period.
After killing a Bruins power play, the Wings tied it on Rasmussen’s 11th goal and third in four games. Rasmussen got to a bouncing puck in front of Swayman and whipped it into the net, tying the game 2-2 at 5:46.
“He’s really driving the bus for us right now,” said Larkin of Rasmussen’s surge.
After another poor Bruins’ power play, the Wings went ahead on Zadina’s ninth goal. It ended an eight-game point drought for Zadina, who trailed on a Vrana rush, as Vrana deftly found Zadina through two bodies.