WASHINGTON — Jakub Vrana was welcomed back, Dylan Larkin was tossed, and the Detroit Red Wings edged a little closer to the playoff picture.
An eventful first period Tuesday at Capital One Arena saw the Wings gain a lead but lose their captain. Ultimately they celebrated a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals, moving within two points of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Wings have won six of their last seven games and eight of their last 11.
Vrana showed hustle in his first game in four months, and Pius Suter showed his hot hand, scoring twice to reach six goals his last five games. Defenseman Robert Hägg scored the first goal, shortly after the Wings’ bench was shortened with Larkin’s departure.
Eyeing the playoffs:Detroit Red Wings have fought for years to play big games
The Wings (27-21-8) are in an ultra tight race with the Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers and New York Islanders for the two wild-card spots. The Wings have games in hand on the Capitals, Islanders and Panthers.
During a timeout in the first period, the Capitals played a nearly two-minute video tribute on the Jumbotron welcoming back Vrana, who played in Washington for the first time since the 2021 trade-deadline deal. It was doubly appropriate, given it was also Vrana’s first game with the Wings since Oct. 15, after a stay in the NHL and NHLPA players assistance program, being waived, and spending six weeks in the minors. Vrana started out playing on a line with Robby Fabbri and Joe Veleno, but with Larkin gone, the lines had a variety of looks to offset being down to 11 forwards.
More:Why Jakub Vrana’s return to Detroit Red Wings lineup bumped Filip Zadina
Larkin hadn’t been assessed a penalty since Jan. 17, but there was no escaping punishment after a high hit on Capitals forward T.J. Oshie. Upon review, officials assessed Larkin a five-minute major for cross-checking, triggering a game misconduct. That ended Larkin’s night 12:43 into the first period, after playing just under three minutes, and put a halt to his seven-game point streak (seven goals, six assists).
Suter bought the Wings a little breathing room when he got the puck inside his own blue line and skated up ice and scored on Darcy Kuemper to make it 2-0. Tom Wilson got one back while the Wings were still shorthanded because of the Larkin penalty, redirecting Marcus Johansson’s shot past Husso, at 15:57 of the first period.
Mantha leaves, too
Former Wings forward Anthony Mantha, who went to Washington in the Vrana trade, left in the second period with what the Capitals said was an upper-body injury. As little as the Wings have seen of Vrana (Tuesday was only his third game this season), Mantha hasn’t been much of a factor for the Capitals. He has nine goals, 15 assists and minus-7 rating in 53 games; he has been a healthy scratch five times, and, after going without a point in about nine minutes of play Tuesday, has no points in eight consecutive games. His last goal came on New Year’s Eve.
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 latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.
Next up: Rangers
Matchup: Red Wings (27-21-8) vs. N.Y. Rangers (33-15-9).
Faceoff: 7 p.m. Thursday; Little Caesars Arena, Detroit.
TV/radio: Bally Sports Detroit; WXYT-FM (97.1).