Columbus, Ohio — They’ve been in this situation before, scratching and clawing to make the playoffs, nothing easy coming to them.
Maybe the Red Wings are using all they’ve learned the past several seasons to use this spring, too.
In a game they desperately needed to have Thursday, the Red Wings ground out a 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Luke Glendening scored a first-period goal and Henrik Zetterberg and Darren Helm added third-period goals, while goaltender Jimmy Howard, filling in for Petr Mrazek (ill), stopped 27 shots for the victory.
With the victory, the Red Wings moved ahead of idle Philadelphia (81 points to the Flyers’ 80) for the second and final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
But give credit to Zetterberg, the Red Wings captain, for motivation off the ice.
Several players talked afterward about how Zetterberg has been leading the team, noting the importance of these late-season games.
“He’s been talking the last few games about how good of a team we really are and how we have to rise to the occasion and find ways to win to get into the playoffs,” Helm said. “When things need to be said, he’ll get up and speak and speak his mind and says what the team needs to hear.
“I’m not surprised he does it. He’s a good leader. He’s not always a rah-rah, yelling guy, but when he steps up and speaks you listen. He’s leading in the room and on the ice and you want to play hard for your captain.”
Howard was quick to give Zetterberg the credit for this victory.
“He leads by example,” Howard said. “He always plays a great game, but tonight he was extra special for us and we’re going to need that down the stretch.”
Zetterberg kept whatever he said Thursday under wraps but it seemed that playing with more urgency than the team has showed of late was a talking point.
“Whatever is said in the room stays in the room but everyone knows the importance of the game and the importance of two points,” Zetterberg said. “We just have to realize where we are and we have to play with more urgency and I thought we did in the first period, didn’t do that in the second, but in the third we got back to playing the way we should.”
After disappointing losses against Toronto and Philadelphia, the Red Wings showed more grit and determination in this victory.
“You want to end losing streaks any way you can,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Right now we have to play the best we can and win as many hockey games as we can down the stretch.
“We came out in the third and played well and didn’t give them much.”
Zetterberg gave the Red Wings a cushion with his 13th goal — his first in 12 games — at 7:16 of the third period.
Justin Abdelkader carried the puck down wing and centered a shot toward goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who made the stop but let the rebound bounce in front to Zetterberg, who backhanded a shot into the net.
Helm made it 3-0 at 12:35, his 11th goal, snapping a shot from the hashmarks.
Howard’s bid for a shutout ended when Alexander Wennberg scored a power-play goal with one minute left in the game.
Otherwise, Howard was nearly perfect.
“The guys played a tremendous game in front of me all night long,” Howard said. “They battled hard in front and didn’t allow them to establish net presence and made my night relatively easy.
“You cherish these moments (in a playoff race) when you’re a player and competitor. You just want to go out there and play. Everyone in here just needed to take a deep breath and relax and get back to paying attention to details.”