The stick salute at the end was a well-meaning gesture towards fans, but dulled by the Detroit Red Wings’ downfall.
When the horn sounded on Saturday’s matinee, the Wings were on the short end of a 7-2 final against the Pittsburgh Penguins, their late-aughts rival for the Stanley Cup. Backed, still, by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins are headed to the playoffs, while the Wings are done at Little Caesars Arena for the season and have three road games left before the offseason.
“I wish we were on the winning side of the game,” veteran defenseman and alternate captain Danny DeKeyser said in what may have been his final appearance at LCA. “It’s never a good feeling to do that after a loss.”
A stick salute has become commonplace after a team’s last home game. The Wings kept it close early on goals from Jakub Vrana and Michael Rasmussen, but the Penguins, like the Florida Panthers in the previous game, just had too much fire power. The Wings, in addition to being without Dylan Larkin and Robby Fabbri, also were without Filip Zadina, who stayed in Florida to have his appendix removed and will miss the last stretch.
“We’re a spot where we’ve lost a lot of guys,” Blashill said. “.A lot of the preparation was trying to who fits in what spots and put ourselves in position to be as competitive as we can be.”
Thomas Greiss allowed goals to Chad Ruhwedel, Crosby, Rickard Rakell, Kris Letang and Malkin on 23 shots and was replaced by Alex Nedeljkovic to start the third period. He gave up goals to Danton Heinen and Malkin.
Some of the biggest cheers Saturday came when the scoreboard cut to the ballpark across Woodward Avenue, showing Detroit Tigers star Miguel Cabrera’s 3,000th hit.
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The Wings (30-39-10) play their third-to-last-game Sunday at the New Jersey Devils.
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When Greiss stopped Evan Rodrigues on a breakaway past the midpoint of the first period, it was only the Penguins’ second shot on net. They, like the Wings, started to stir as they got their legs under them and took advantage of a defensive breakdown to take the lead. Teddy Blueger, the fourth-line center, had the puck deep in the offensive zone and wired a pass to defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, who was wide open to the right of the net. The Penguins doubled their lead less than 90 seconds later when Sidney Crosby passed the puck through traffic to Rickard Rakell only to get it back right at the net. That gave Crosby the 10th 30-goal season of his career.
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Vrana nets another
Vrana scored during a power play late in the first period, burying a one-timer off a pass from Tyler Bertuzzi. That gave Vrana 13 goals in 23 games. He missed the first 56 games recovering from shoulder surgery. Dating to the 11 games Vrana played last season after being acquired at the trade deadline, he’s already surpassed 20 goals in 34 games. His ability to score was magnified as the Wings lost second-line winger Robby Fabbri to a knee injury March 10, and Dylan Larkin to season-ending surgery on April 18.
DeKeyser’s last stand?
DeKeyser’s contract is up, and it’s unlikely the 32-year-old fits into the Wings’ future. He hasn’t been as effective since undergoing major back surgery in December 2019. DeKeyser said he “would love to keep playing,” but he’s already been placed on waivers by general manager Steve Yzerman multiple times over the past two seasons. “You never really know what’s going to happen, but it will take care of itself in the summer,” DeKeyser said. “It’s been a dream come true to play here. Growing up idolizing this team, I come to the rink every day and know I’m pretty lucky to be able to play for my hometown team. It’s been special for me.”
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.