DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings’ playoff chances got a whole lot better Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena.
Behind two goals in the third period and a 23-save performance from Jimmy Howard, the Wings beat the Los Angeles Kings, 3-1, to leapfrog Columbus into the eighth seed in the Western Conference with 52 points.
“We’re looking at what the other teams are doing, but we have a chance to take care of this ourselves and that’s what we want to do,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “That’s where we belong (in the playoffs) and we need to prove we belong there as well.”
All the Wings need now are just three points over their last two games to make it 22 consecutive seasons in the playoffs. They could also get in with a Columbus loss in one of its two remaining games in regulation and by garnishing one more point over their last two games.
“For us, we really don’t have a choice right now, we have to stick to the plan,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “It might sound like a cliché and I know it’s boring maybe to hear, but it’s one at a time. We have to focus on the next game. Right now we need to refuel, get a lot of fluid in us, get some sleep and be ready for (Thursday).”
Detroit hosts Nashville Thursday and end the season in Dallas on Saturday. Columbus is at Dallas Thursday before closing the season at home Saturday against Nashville.
If the Wings and Blue Jackets tie are tied in points at the end of the season, Detroit will hold the tiebreaker, regular and overtime wins.
“It’s important to get the points, get wins and get them in regulation time,” forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We got two games left, focus (on Thursday) and win that one and then move onto Dallas.
The Stars sit on 46 points and could still reach the postseason, but would need Detroit to lose its final two games.
“We’ve been playing good all year,” Zetterberg said. “The one thing we’ve been doing is working hard. We’ve got a lot of new faces but everyone has been working really hard every game. Maybe the details haven’t been superb every night, but that’s what happens when you got a lot of new kids, new lines. We’re finding the way to play now and just got to keep going.”
Detroit got third period goals from Jordin Tootoo and Johan Franzen. Pavel Datsyuk also scored.
Kyle Clifford had the Kings goal and Jonathan Quick made 33 saves.
“Our problem hasn’t been giving up goals, our problem has been scoring goals,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We were able to get three, which is real positive for us. For long time we lost games because we could never get the next one. You’ve got to score goals.”
Great pressure by the Wings’ fourth line led to what proved to be the game-winning goal.
After Tootoo dug the puck out from behind the Kings’, Patrick Eaves got off a shot that was blocked aside to Brendan Smith, who then fed a backhand pass back to Eaves at the top of the faceoff circle and his one-timer was redirected in by Tootoo as he cut to the crease.
“I thought we had a pretty good forecheck there and we were pretty persistent on the puck,” said Tootoo, who has three goals this season. “Anytime you can contribute as a fourth-line player it’s always exciting. You don’t get to do that too often, but when you do you’ve got to make the best of it.”
Franzen, who was unable to finish the game due to an undisclosed injury, made it 3-1 on the power play.
Camped out in front of Kings’ crease, Franzen took a nice feed from Zetterberg from behind the net and chipped a shot over Quick’s right pad with less than seven minutes left in the third period to record the Wings’ fourth power play goal in the last two games.
“We all know how important these wins are now,” Ericsson said. “We came out playing from the start and we played 60 minutes. That’s what we need to do when we do that we play really well and we can beat any team.”
After the Wings dominated play in the first period, outshooting Los Angeles 13-4, it was the Kings that opened the scoring when Clifford jammed home a loose puck after a scramble in front of Howard, who had recorded two shutouts in his last four starts.
Datsyuk tied things up five minutes later after cradling a backhand pass from Ericsson. Datsyuk spun Kings defenseman Drew Doughty around after putting the puck on his backhand and then slid it between the legs of an outstretched Quick.
Los Angeles, which was playing its second game in two nights, was without forward and team captain Dustin Brown, who was suspended on Wednesday the final two games of regular season for elbowing incident on Tuesday.
“Not being cute with it, getting it in, just going to work, playing simple hockey, I think that’s been the key for us in back-to-back games this year,” said Howard, who will start Thursday night against Nashville. “We’ve been really good on the second night of back to backs. I think it comes down to making the safe play.”
Wings general manager Ken Holland said Franzen will be re-evaluated Thursday morning to see if he can play against the Predators.