DETROIT – Pavel Datsyuk limited the Wings’ air travel through at least the first round of the NHL playoffs.
With 46.4 seconds left in regulation, Datsyuk buried a puck into the open net to salvage a point for Detroit and lock in the fifth seed in the Western Conference playoffs and a date with Nashville in the opening round.
“It’s huge,” said Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who stopped 31 shots in the Wings’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena. “Now we’re not going out to the West Coast. For the last few years we’ve been back-and-forth to the Western time zone. We’ve been out there enough times. It’s nice we’re not going there to start, but to be there in June you’ve got to beat some real good teams.”
Patrick Kane scored the only goal in the shootout for the Hawks, who finish in the sixth seed and will face the Pacific Division champs in the first round.
“We didn’t want to lose and have a chance to go to the West Coast,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “We wanted home ice advantage and if we would have won we still would have had a chance, but now we know we’re going to start on the road and we’re going to prepare for that. We come back here Monday and get ready for the playoffs.”
Two points would have given the Wings a shot at the fourth seed, but they would have needed a loss in regulation by the Predators against Colorado Saturday night to make that happen.
“You know you’re going to play good teams every round so it doesn’t matter, but I think the travel is huge for us and now to get that short travel, only a one-hour time difference, that’s good for us,” Zetterberg said.
It’s only the second time in last 20 seasons they’ve started the first round on the road. The only other time was two years ago in Phoenix.
“You have to play well on the road to have success in the playoffs,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “You have to win a game or two on the road and play well on the road.
“I think it helps just traveling one time zone instead of going all the way out to the West Coast the first round, it takes its toll on the body,” Lidstrom added. “It’s a shorter trip down to Nashville.”
Detroit got third period goals from Johan Franzen and Datsyuk, while Chicago got its regulation goals from Viktor Stalberg and Andrew Shaw. Corey Crawford made 30 saves in goal for the Blackhawks.
In three of the Wings’ last four games they’ve trailed heading into the third period and have come away with five of a possible six points.
“We dug ourselves a hole, down two after two, but we were able to rally back and find a way to get point there,” said Howard, who is just 3-6-3 in his last 12 decisions. “It’s been awhile since we’ve scored first. We just keep going. It’s the way playoffs are going to be. It’s going to be an emotional rollercoaster. Games are going to be very tight like that.”
Trailing 2-0 to begin the third, Franzen cut the Wings’ deficit in half by somehow sneaking a shot past Crawford from along the boards as the Blackhawks’ netminder hugged the port to his left. The goal, which was his 29th goal of the season, was unassisted.
Then with less than a minute left in regulation, and Howard on the bench for an extra attacker, Datsyuk took a no-look backhand pass from Tomas Holmstrom and slammed the puck into the open net to the left of Crawford.
“I just had to shoot in the empty net,” Datsyuk said. “It’s kind of hard cause it’s a 6-on-5. The puck moved fast, from side-to-side and there was a scramble in front of the net and sometime that happens. I’ve been playing with (Holmstrom) for almost like 20 years. Of course I expected that pass.”
Detroit finishes 2-3-1 in six games against Chicago this season.
“That’s great and we don’t have to travel across the country, which to me is the biggest thing,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said of the team’s first-round opponent. “You know, when we’re down 2-0 you starting thinking about we might have to travel across the country. Every matchup in the league is tough so to me the less travel you have the better off you are.”
Detroit, which killed off all six of Chicago’s power play opportunities and has gone 25-for-25 on the PK in the last seven games, is just 5-5-2 at home after setting an NHL record with 23 consecutive wins on home ice.
Since the Wings’ seven-goal outburst against Columbus on March 26, they’ve scored just 10 goals over the last six games. They haven’t scored more than two goals in any game since that outburst.
The seven goals put up on the Blue Jackets came on the heels of Detroit scoring five goals against Carolina.
“I think you get concerned with lots of things, to me we haven’t given up a whole bunch, even through the times we didn’t win, we didn’t give up a whole bunch, which is a positive thing for us,” Babcock said. “That’s how you win in the end.”
The Blackhawks opened the scoring midway through the first period when Stalberg banged home a rebound off a shot from the point by Patrick Sharp, who started the play by holding in an attempted clearing attempt out of the Wings’ zone.
The goal came after Detroit had killed off a four-minute double minute for high sticking on Riley Sheahan. Chicago managed just one shot on goal.
With less than five minutes to play in the second period, Justin Abdelkader was sent off for the Wings’ second double-minor high sticking penalty when he clipped Niklas Hjalmarsson in the left high. However, Hjalmarsson drew an interference penalty originally to cut the Blackhawks’ power play time in half.
Detroit killed off the penalty, but before Todd Bertuzzi, who was serving the extra two-minute minor, Shaw doubled the Blackhawks’ lead after taking a backhand pass from Sharp and chipping it over Howard’s glove before Cory Emmerton could tie the center man up.
Earlier in the period the Wings’ nearly struck on the power play, but shots from Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall both found iron behind Crawford. First, Lidstrom clanked one off the crossbar and then Kronwall rang one off the post less than a minute into the man advantage.