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— This was a long time coming and Tom McCollum was going to enjoy every second of it.

After Sunday's 6-4 victory over Buffalo, in which McCollum earned his first NHL victory after relieving Petr Mrazek, McCollum soaked in the accomplishment with a huge media scrum around his locker.

He deserved it. Even McCollum was doubting this moment was ever going to happen.

"At one point I was starting to," said McCollum, a first-round draft pick of the Red Wings in 2008 whose only other NHL experience was allowing three goals in approximately 10 minutes in a 2011 relief appearance. "I was hoping to get a chance. You never know how things happen."

McCollum has a goalie mask with a green highway sign with the words "Detroit, Next Exit" painted on it.

There have been a lot of miles and exit signs and detours, he said, and the ride has been largely bumpy.

McCollum has shuttled between Toledo and Grand Rapids, the Red Wings' two minor league affiliates, and been passed on the depth chart by Mrazek, who has shown his NHL capabilities this season while filling in for the injured Jimmy Howard.

Still, despite all the setbacks and disappointments, playing in minor league outposts far from the NHL, McCollum never gave up.

"I knew I could play in this league," he said.

He finally got a chance to show it Sunday.

Relieving Mrazek, McCollum stopped seven of the eight shots he faced and preserved the Red Wings' comeback in the 6-4 victory.

"It was great to see Tommy come in and fun to see him get a win," said Gustav Nyquist, who was a teammate of McCollum's in Grand Rapids. "It gives him a lot of confidence. He's always been a good goalie. I don't score too often on him in practice. He's turned into a real good goalie and it's good to see him up here."

Entering the game in relief may have actually helped McCollum focus in even more.

"It might have made it a little easier, I didn't have time to think about it," he said. "You hope it would be in a start. I'm just really happy the team turned it around after I got in there."

Coach Mike Babcock felt the game would be a good confidence builder for McCollum.

"That's what you want when your kids come up (from Grand Rapids), to gain more confidence," Babcock said. "It's a process."

That the victory happened Sunday against the Sabres, McCollum's hometown team — he grew up in Amherst, about 20 minutes from Buffalo — only made it a bit more special.

McCollum's parents were in attendance Sunday and his sister was watching back home.

His friends, most of whom are Sabres fans, probably had mixed emotions.

"I'm sure some friends back home aren't too happy with me right now," McCollum said. "But that's all right. I'll take it that way."

Long time coming

Henrik Zetterberg's last hat trick was Feb. 1, 2013, so he was another player who relished Sunday's game.

Zetterberg's three-goal third period was the difference in the win.

"It's been a while," he said. "It's always nice to see the puck go in."

Zetterberg leads the team in points (41), but did go through a 10-game goal-scoring drought this season.

"Z's had some opportunities lately and hasn't buried them, so it's good to see him wire it into the net," Babcock said. "It gives you confidence. When you're a scorer, you like to score. That gives you energy."

Star gazing

Tomas Tatar was named the NHL's Second Star for the week after scoring five goals in the four Red Wings victories last week, scoring goals in all four games.

He is seventh in the league with 21 goals.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

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Wild at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: This will be the first game between the teams this season. ... The Wild have struggled this season, with goaltending and offense major problems. ... Free-agent acquisition LW Thomas Vanek (8 goals) has been a disappointment.

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