Detroit — There aren’t many games left and the Red Wings can’t afford any slip-ups.
They can’t afford to give away games they are expected to win.
Thursday’s game against a shredded Montreal Canadiens team was one the Red Wings needed and expected to win — and they did, 4-3.
It was two important points the Red Wings earned in the standings, moving one point behind Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division and remaining tied with Philadelphia for the final wild-card spot.
But there was a dark side to this win. The Red Wings almost frittered away a four-goal lead.
The Canadiens scored three goals in a span of 7 minutes, 3 seconds to begin the third period and close, astonishly, within a goal.
There were several other scary situations — pulling the goalie, Montreal had a two-man advantage the final 17 seconds — but goalie Petr Mrazek and the Red Wings held on.
“We have to learn from that and go forward, just have to play a little smarter,” said Mrazek, who stopped 26 shots, including eight important ones in the third (although he allowed three third-period goals). “They found a way to come back in the game. But in the end, it doesn’t matter, no one will ask you in a couple of days how you won the game.”
Still, after taking a 4-0 lead into the third period, it wasn’t the finish the Red Wings wanted.
“You want to go out and salt the game away, and just go shift after shift and not give them any life,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Unfortunately they score right away and it gives them life and they score again and there’s more life.
“We have to be better than that in the third, no question. We have better hockey in us and have to play better than that.”
The Red Wings outshot Montreal 40-29 and for two periods controlled the game, particularly the second period, in which the Red Wings tied a season-high with 21 shots on net.
Offensively there were several stars, with Riley Sheahan scoring two goals and Luke Glendening one, but it was Anthony Mantha who will not soon forget this evening, scoring his first NHL goal against his hometown team.
Approximately 15 family and friends were in attendance as Mantha put back a rebound on a second-period power play, which eventually became the winning goal.
“The first one wasn’t going to be pretty,” Mantha said. “I battled my way through and the rebound was perfect, I just had to tap it in.”
Mantha wasn’t pressing in his fifth NHL game, but Blashill figures the goal will lend some relief.
“When you score your first one, it’s certainly a weight off your shoulders,” Blashill said. “He’s been playing well and getting chances. When it’s not going in you can start squeezing the stick. It’s good for him to have it go in.”’
Sheahan — who hadn’t scored since March 2 — and Glendening scored 12 seconds apart just under six minutes into the second period to give the Red Wings a 3-0 lead, seemingly salted the win right there.
But nothing is overly easy for the Red Wings anymore.
And Montreal somehow crawled back into the game.
“We did a good job battling through it and battling through some adversity,” Sheahan said. “Every game is important for us when you see how close the standings are.
“When it was 4-0 they didn’t back down, they did a good job, and it’s going to be like that down the stretch.”