Detroit — It is as if having done it the hard way so often, the Red Wings are simply content with not taking the easy path.
For the second game in three, the Red Wings, struggling to make the playoffs, built a large lead through diligence and a much greater commitment to defensive play and possessing the puck, than Saturday against the Penguins.
But they yielded most of the advantage in the third and dangled by fingertips before winning yet another one goal game, 3-2, on Monday night against the Sabres.
The Sabres scored twice with 2:50 left in the third period.
The Wings played a similar game Thursday against the Canadiens, although the opponent’s offensive onslaught came earlier in the third.
For long portions of the game Monday, the Red Wings were in control, allowing five shots on goal in the first and four in the second, while firing 21 on the target themselves through two periods. They also committed just two giveaways in the last 40 minutes of play.
Meanwhile, they blocked 17 shot attempts by the Sabres. Luke Glendening, who walked around the room with an ice pack on a thigh after the contest to take down the swelling of one altercation with the puck, blocked five.
“It was nice to get that third one, but then they scored one right away off the faceoff,” Henrik Zetterberg said, recounting the scoring. “And then, one more there.
“But, overall it was a good game.
“I thought we came out and played a lot better from the start, with good urgency and that was the main focus, tonight.”
Unfortunately for the Wings, the Flyers continued to play like a team of destiny.
With 13.6 seconds left in overtime in Philadelphia, their leading scorer Claude Giroux scored after the Jets had rallied to tie the game at two in the third period.
The Flyers, who won 3-2, continue to have the same number of points as the Wings, 87, and one game in hand. That leaves the Red Wings on the outside looking into the playoffs, in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins with 88 points were idle. But the Wings used their game at hand on Boston to pick up two points on them, as the Red Wings also pursue third place in the Atlantic Division.
By either third in the Atlantic or a wild-card spot, they would obtain their 25th consecutive playoff berth. While the Red Wings play the Canadiens on Tuesday in Montreal, the Flyers are idle and the Bruins are on the road against the Devils.
On Monday, the Wings got goals from Dylan Larkin (22), Riley Sheahan (12) on a gorgeous solo effort the length of the ice and Glendening (eight) into an empty net.
But they yielded the first goal against at 17:10 of third, when Zemgus Girgensons scored immediately off the faceoff after Glendening’s goal. It was not officially a goal with an extra attacker, because the Sabres goalie Chad Johnson had not quite reached the Sabres bench after returning to the ice for the faceoff.
Then, at 18:11, with the Wings defense scrambled for the first time for much of the evening, Sam Reinhart scored again, this time with the extra attacker.
After a disastrous defensive game against the speedy, offensively-talented Penguins in a 7-2 loss Saturday, the Red Wings really tightened it down against the Sabres. For 57 minutes, there were almost no odd-man rushes, and the Wings had much more control — although not complete control — of their own crease.
They were also far better at maintaining control of the puck in the offensive zone, again, until the last three minutes of the game.
But, once again, after yielding the first goal, in the face of things suddenly going bad, the Red Wings allowed adversity to expand and gain pace, rather than controlling the puck and reasserting themselves in the game.
The Wings gave up 20 shots, including several in the last few minutes of play, when Jimmy Howard was particularly strong.
Howard got the start instead of a cold Petr Mrazek.
“I thought overall we were good, until the very end there,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We didn’t give them much. We didn’t give them very many shots. We didn’t give up a whole lot of chances.
“Obviously, there’s still corrections we can make to some mistakes. But, overall, I thought it was good.”
In need if a good start and the first goal, the Red Wings played fairly well from the start of the game, limiting the Sabres to one shot on net through the first 13:30 of the period while firing seven of their own, on net.
When Andreas Athanasiou used his speed in the offensive zone late in the period, it forced the veteran defenseman Josh Gorges to interfere, and the Wings struck on their third power play.
Larkin moved with vigor away from the puck, to stay free and when Zetterberg’s shot from the slot yielded a huge rebound off Johnson, the Red Wings all-star forward swept in to convert it.
Larkin fired high into the back of the net, at 18:32 to put the Wings up 1-0.
About nine minutes into the second period, Sheahan quite literally took things into his own hands.
Collecting the puck behind the Red Wings net to the right of Howard, Sheahan skated along the end boards and turned up ice on the goalie’s left. He gained speed through his own zone and especially through center ice, where he bobbed.
Just after he flew into the Sabres zone, he weaved, then bobbed again, before firing.
His blistering wrist shot went over Johnson’s glove arm on the long side and ricocheted off the inside of the far post and hit the back of the net.
It was a wondrous goal but not exactly what Sheahan had in mind, he later confessed.
“I just started up the ice and I saw I had a little room to skate,” he said. “I kind of just kept going and kept going.
“I made my way through there. I didn’t really mean to do that or have that in mind.
“But I had some room and I got a good shot off, so it was good.”
But the third period came and the final 2:50 of the game was a white-knuckle portion of the flight, if there ever was one.
With Glendening and others blocking some shots, Howard remained stalwart.
“You’re just trying to be as square as possible and be as quiet as possible” he said of his approach. “But also, at the same time, be as big as possible.
“So you’re trying to do a lot of small movements, and not give them anything.”
In the final 1:49, Howard succeeded.
But, once again, it was a team dangling with outreached arms for survival, and just making it to the finish line, with the lead.
Schedule for the teams in a fight for playoff spots in the Eastern Conference:
N.Y. ISLANDERS (89 POINTS, EIGHT GAMES)
Home (six) — Carolina (tonight), Columbus (Thursday), Pittsburgh (Saturday), Tampa Bay (April 4), Buffalo (April 9), Philadelphia (April 10). Away (two) — Washington (April 5), N.Y. Rangers (April 7)
BOSTON (88 POINTS, SIX GAMES)
Home (three) — Carolina (April 5), Detroit (April 7), Ottawa (April 9). Away (three) — New Jersey (tonight), St. Louis (Friday), Chicago (Sunday)
PHILADELPHIA (87 POINTS, SEVEN GAMES)
Home (four) — Washington (Wednesday), Ottawa (Saturday), Toronto (April 7), Pittsburgh (April 9). Away (three) — Pittsburgh (Sunday), Detroit (April 6), N.Y. Islanders (April 10)
DETROIT (87 POINTS, SIX GAMES)
Home (two) — Minnesota (Friday), Philadelphia (April 6). Away (four) — Montreal (tonight), Toronto (Saturday), Boston (April 7), N.Y. Rangers (April 9)