Detroit — Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic was part of a winning team in Carolina last season, and now being a Red Wing knows the success and tradition of his current organization.
During this season, Nedeljkovic was part of a Wings team that surprised fans and analysts the first half of the schedule — but sank badly the second half.
Too many ugly losses, inconsistent goaltending, spotty defensive play. They all led, primarily, to the second-half collapse.
For Nedeljkovic, this season has shown the importance of instilling a winning culture that may have slipped away in recent seasons.
“Things have to change, you have to find a way to get a winning culture here,” said Nedeljkovic after Sunday’s 3-0 victory over New Jersey. “There’s a lot of history, a lot of success in this organization but lately not so much. We have to find ways to get back to that.”
Sunday’s victory was a small step forward, and helped erase a 7-2 loss at Little Caesars Arena to Pittsburgh 24 hours earlier. Nedeljkovic acknowledged the transformation may not happen in a short period of time.
It may occur during another hard-working off-season, as the Wings train and get ready mentally for next season.
“It’s not going to happen overnight or happen just because this year went the way it did,” Nedeljkovic said .”Next year is a new year. Guys have to go home and self-evaluate, look yourself in the mirror, be honest with yourself and come back next year better, stronger, faster and with a will to want to win, a killer instinct.
“Some nights we haven’t had that.”
Nedeljkovic felt the Wings had that extra level of desire to win against the Devils, doing whatever necessary — particularly late in the game — to secure a victory against a Devils team that has struggled badly.
“We had that killer instinct of wanting to win the game no matter what it took, and that’s what we need moving forward,” Nedeljkovic said. “We had some urgency, some jump in our game and some purpose. We were playing like we were playing for something, playing for pride. Guys came out and wanted to compete, wanted to work.”
Nedeljkovic earned his fourth shutout this season, while only needing to make 17 saves. Only Roger Crozier, who had six shutouts during his 1964-65 Calder Trophy-winning season, has had more as a Wings’ rookie goaltender.
It was a strange afternoon for Nedeljkovic, who didn’t face much work, but had to make some sharp saves when called upon.
“You’re not getting as many shots and it’s tough to get into a rhythm only facing a few shots over (a long stretch of) minutes,” Nedeljkovic said. “But I’ll take it. It was great we played great defensively. We didn’t give them many looks and the couple they did have, they missed the net for I was able to swallow pucks.
“I’ll take that any night of the week.”
With forward Tyler Bertuzzi unable to play Tuesday in Toronto due to his unvaccinated status for COVID, the Wings signed forward Turner Elson for the final two games of the season.
Elson, 29, is enjoying his best pro season while playing for the Wings’ minor league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins, with 21 goals and 24 assists for 45 points.
The Wings needed to sign Elson to an NHL contract to get him on the roster, because Elson was on American League contract with the Griffins.
The addition of Elson may signal forward Jonatan Berggren will not get an NHL game, or two, this season.
The Griffins were officially eliminated from AHL playoff contention last weekend, but Berggren continued his fine play with two assists Sunday in a 6-2 loss to Chicago.
Berggren (2018 second-round draft pick) became the first rookie in Griffins’ franchise history to reach the 60-point mark.
In addition to having the AHL rookie-scoring title, Berggren’s 40 assists are the most by a Griffins’ rookie and 20 goals are tied for eighth most.
Defenseman Marc Staal has been nominated by the Detroit chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association as the Wings’ nominee for the Masterton Trophy.
The Masterson is awarded annually to the NHL player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game.”
Staal, 35, appeared in his 1,000th NHL game on March 12, and has embodied perseverance and consistency since being acquired by the Wings two seasons ago.
The Masterton Trophy will be awarded, along with the other NHL major awards, between Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Goaltender Magnus Hellberg dressed Sunday as Nedeljkovic’s back-up, but has yet to play in a game since being signed almost two weeks ago.
With only two games left, Tuesday in Toronto and Friday back in New Jersey, there isn’t a lot of time to get Hellberg a game.
Hellberg hasn’t played since the Winter Olympics in February (Hellberg played for Sweden), and has been getting into game shape while the Wings recently have had a busy schedule.
“He spent a long time not doing anything, other than maybe a little bit of work with a goalie coach in Sweden,” Blashill said. “Just to be in that game environment is important and then we’ll take again, day by day.”
Red Wings at Maple Leafs
► Faceoff: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Scotiabank Arena, Toronto.
► TV/radio: BSD-Extra/950
► Outlook: The Maple Leafs (52-21-7) are looking to secure the second-seed in the Atlantic Division, and home-ice advantage in the first-round…The Leafs have won all three games against the Wings this season…C Auston Matthews (58 goals) is having an MVP-caliber season, while Port Huron’s G Jack Campbell (30-9-6, .913 SVS) has solidified the goaltending.