DETROIT >> Just one game after clinching a berth in this year’s playoffs, the Detroit Red Wings went back to playing how they did earlier in the season at Joe Louis Arena … poorly.
Carolina got a 28-save performance from Cam Ward and goals from Elias Lindholm and Jiri Tlusty to skate past the Wings, 2-1, Friday night.
“No question,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said when asked if the team had an emotional letdown after clinching a playoff berth a couple nights ago. “Might even expect it, but that’s not an excuse. We have a good enough team to win tonight we just have to play right.”
Detroit got a third period goal from Riley Sheahan and Jimmy Howard stopped 17 shots.
“You can’t cheat the system, it doesn’t work like that,” Babcock said. “If you do good things, good things happen. If you don’t, you turn the puck over I don’t know how many times, needlessly for no reason and in the end their goaltender was really good, we didn’t make it hard enough on them. We didn’t have enough net presence, second chances and then just intensity, we had wide open nets. If you’re focused and you’re dialed in you shoot it in the net.”
It’s the first regular season win by the Carolina franchise at JLA since a 3-0 win by the Hartford Whalers on Nov. 14, 1989.
“I think we’ve been playing playoff type hockey to get ourselves in,” Drew Miller said. “It’s not really the time we shouldn’t be playing the way we should.”
With at least a point Friday Detroit would have vaulted in front of Columbus for the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference after the Blue Jackets fell to Tampa Bay.
In order to garner that spot now, the Wings need to beat St. Louis on Sunday and have Philadelphia get no more than one point in its last two games and have the Blue Jackets do the same in their final game.
“Probably,” Johan Franzen said when asked if he thought it was a mental letdown after clinching the playoff berth. “I think so and hope so. Hopefully we can get ourselves back together here and start playing the way we want to before the playoffs.”
If Detroit is the second wild card it’s a series with Boston. If it’s the top wild card it’s Pittsburgh.
After Sheahan got the Wings on the board on the power play just four minutes into the third period, Ward stood on his head to keep Carolina in front.
Ward preserved his team’s one-goal lead after robbing Justin Abdelkader with his left pad on a one-time down low after a pass from Pavel Datsyuk.
Just moments later, Darren Helm spun John-Michael Liles to the ground to go one-on-one with Ward, but he was turned aside by his blocker this time.
“We had enough chances to win, but we didn’t really do all the small things like we’ve been doing to win all the games,” Franzen said. “We were a little loose. It happens. You don’t want to play like that. We don’t want to exchange chances like that, going up and down. We don’t want to play that type of game. It is what it is. Try to win the next one.”
But the first two period cost the Wings.
“I don’t think we had much intensity through two periods,” Babcock said. “I thought we had a good push, but the reality is we weren’t good enough. We had tons of chances. Their goaltender was good, but we didn’t play right. When you don’t play hard enough, you don’t play right, you don’t win. As a group we weren’t good enough.
“At one point we had a 4-on-3, they had a 3-on-1,” Babcock continued. “We had a 3-on-2. That’s not how we play. That’s river hockey. That’s not how we’re going to have success. I was disappointed in the fact that we didn’t stick to what we have to do to have success, but it’s a good reminder for us too.”
The Hurricanes opened the scoring on the power play eight minutes into the first period.
All alone down low, Lindholm took a pass at the side of Howard, brought it off his backhand to forehand before chipping a shot off the glove of the Wings’ netminder.
Carolina entered the game with the second worst power play in the league.
Ten minutes later, Carolina doubled its lead when Tlusty banged home a rebound off Howard’s blocker from a shot by Eric Staal. Tlusty worked his way in front of Brendan Smith entering the Wings’ zone.
In the second, Staal looked like he had given Carolina a 3-0 lead after chipping a puck over Howard’s glove, but an alert Jakub Kindl backhanded it out of the air and then out of harm’s way.