Buffalo — Well beyond not pretty, long stretches of the Red Wings' effort against the Sabres Wednesday were just plain ugly.
But they won, 2-1 in the shootout.
And after four consecutive losses, consecutive shutouts on the road and sitting in last place in the Atlantic Division five points away from the last wild card spot the Wings really, really needed it.
“It’s big to get two points,” Jeff Blashill said. “When you haven’t had enough points obviously you’ve got to find a way to win it. Sometime it’s not as pretty as you want it to be, and there was moments when it wasn’t. But we found a way to two points.
“That’s a good thing for us.”
Jimmy Howard had one of his better games of a season in which he is re-establishing himself as the top hammer in net for the Red Wings. He stopped multiple point-blank shots in the first period when his mates seemed unable to provide assistance.
He was huge again in the third period when the Wings were outshot 12-4, and played far too little time in the Sabres' zone.
Then, Howard won it in the shootout, when Gustav Nyquist and Thomas Vanek tallied and the Sabres could only get one.
It is beginning to seem that when the Wings declared Petr Mrazek the number one goalie last season, Howard had other thoughts in mind, entirely.
“It feels good,” Howard said. “We can take the positive out of it, and we found a way to get two points.
“Now, we’ve got to use that momentum and carry over into Jersey.”
Just walking into the dressing room after the game, Howard said, “It feels like a lot of weight was lifted off our shoulders.”
Nyquist also scored in regulation, his fourth of the season on a terrific, artful assist by Vanek.
The rookie defenseman Ryan Sproul assisted on the play, a long lead pass that demonstrated awareness and vision. It was another strong game for Sproul offensively.
Vanek, in his second game back after missing 11 with a strained hip muscle, was assessed a double minor at the end of the nearly disastrous first period by the Red Wings. He said it motivated him.
The Wings killed both penalties and it seemed to give them a lift for the remainder of the second period, when they outshot the Sabres 12-9 and played their best hockey of the night.
“Obviously, I wanted to score for our team,” said Vanek, an offensive force in the Wings' six-game winning streak last month. “But once that happened, I wanted to score even more.”
The pass Vanek made after receiving the puck from Sproul on a line change was so pretty and effective, it was as if style points should have been awarded along with the assist.
Accepting the pass, Vanek continued skating into the left faceoff circle in front of the Sabres goalie Robin Lehner.
It almost looked like he was headed to the sideboards.
But, in a blink, to the surprise of defenders, he wheeled suddenly to his left, nearly in a twirl, and put the puck almost blindly on Nyquist’s stick in fine shooting position.
Red Wings' Vanek talks about his big goal, the penalty, and the offensive line after the Red Wings' 2-1 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres.
Before the defense or Lehner could recover, Nyquist scored his fourth of the season.
“I see Vanek all alone and I just tried to get up there,” Nyquist said of his reaction to Sproul’s fine lead pass.
“He made a real nice play there,” he said, of Vanek. “So, it was nice to put it in.”
It was an unattractive slog, mostly, to get it to that point, though.
It approached a marvel that the Red Wings were not buried by the Sabres in the first period, when the Wings were enormously sloppy. They produced eight giveaways, including two by Brendan Smith, who was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch for two games, and two by rookie Tyler Bertuzzi.
But Howard brought a big eraser.
Coach Jeff Blashill on the Red Wings' overtime win over the Sabres.
And the referees blew a whistle early during a scramble in the crease, erasing a Sabres goal.
The Wings had one of their worst periods of the season in the first, despite entering the game needing a win badly against a team they have dominated in recent years.
“Confidence is a big thing,” Blashill said. “We haven’t won enough games and that eats away at you a little bit, and then also we made a few mistakes and got on our heels.
“That’s a hard thing. Getting through that was great, and Jimmy Howard was a big factor in that, and then I thought we built towards better hockey in the second.”
The tying goal by Brian Gionta at 1:42 of the third period was challenged by the Wings when the Sabres captain crashed the crease and bumped into Howard and used his stick along the goalie’s pads.
A replay review determined no interference occurred before the puck crossed the goal line.