Newark, N.J. — In a dramatic display of resilience, the Red Wings played their best game of the month on Friday, pouring lots of shots on net and scoring more goals than they have since October 21 to defeat the New Jersey Devils 5-4 in a shootout.
Frans Nielsen scored two goals and set up Mike Green’s winner from the right faceoff circle at 3:18 of overtime.
The Wings overcame a groin injury to Jimmy Howard, their most valuable player of the season, so far. Howard left the game at 11:31 of the first period, with the Red Wings ahead 2-1.
They also surmounted two scoring deficits and a flock of penalties called against them
Along the way, they showed a lot more speed than they have in some time, often rushed the net, and poured 33 shots on the Devils goalie Corey Schneider.
And they allowed only 19 shots against Howard and Petr Mrazek, and none in the overtime.
They allowed too many goals, and there were certainly some defensive lapses. But it was apparent from the start that the ugly win Wednesday in Buffalo recharged the Red Wings after a 2-8-1 stretch that began Oct. 27.
“It was a big win,” said Nielsen, who spoke out earlier in the week about the urgent need to play better and get the season turned around.
“I think we played one of our better games this year. We’re getting pucks deep. We’re getting pucks to the net. And we showed we’re a tough team to play against when we do that and simplify a little bit.”
The Wings seemed like a different team from the start, flying around and beating the Devils to low portions of the ice near Schneider, the so-called dirty areas.
It was more like the kind of play they showed during a six-game winning streak from October 17-27 than anything they have shown since.
And it was continuous.
Only for a brief juncture in the second period, when Adam Henrique tipped a shot from the former Red Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey to beat Petr Mrazek and make the score 3-2 in the Devils favor, did the Wings' energy ebb.
“I thought we played a very good hockey game,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “I think that’s the way we’re going to have to play to be successful.
“Obviously, we gave up more goals than we wanted to but we didn’t give up a whole lot of chances. We didn’t give up very many shots. I thought we played on top of them. I didn’t think we gave them lots of ice.
“We had lots of different guys scoring. So, I thought it was a real positive night.”
Skating with considerable pace and deep on top of Schneider from the start, the first bit of adversity the Red Wings faced was the Devils getting the first goal.
The defenseman John Moore pinched down smartly and Travis Zajac made a nice play behind the Wings net before passing it to him. Moore’s pinch left the Red Wings defenders outnumbered to Howard’s left, and it was 1-0 at 6:01 of the first.
Misfortune multiplied when Riley Sheahan took a double-minor penalty for high-sticking 27 seconds later.
But Justin Abdelkader took things in hand.
With the Devils starting a rush out of the zone, Abdelkader stood up an attacker between the faceoff circles in the New Jersey zone, stole the puck and charged the net.
He got a shot away. Schneider saved it.
But Nielsen was every bit as assertive as Abdelkader, down low at the net. He gathered the rebound and scored his fourth goal of the season at 7:23
The Wings did a thorough job of killing the remaining 3:05 of the penalty.
But they were not done.
As Sheahan left the box it was Abdelkader, again, who fed him.
Sheahan broke towards the net and forced a scramble near the crease. Nielsen, charging down low again, grabbed the loose puck and scored his second goal in 3:18 and his fifth of the season.
The major free-agent acquisition of the offseason, Nielsen is now close to the pace for the third 20-goal season of his career.
But with Howard out of the net more difficulty transpired.
Mike Cammalleri, the former Michigan star, sent a puck that appeared to be going well wide of the net before it struck a skate blade of Wings defensemen Jonathan Ericsson, who was turning to defend on the play.
The puck bounced in behind Mrazek at 4:06 of the second. He stood no chance on the goal.
Ericsson’s misfortunes continued when he took an interference penalty 1:20 later.
Then, 36 seconds into the power play, Pavel Zacha scored his second goal of the season.
It was then the Red Wings lapsed a bit, playing with less pace, puck possession and territorial advantage.
But not for long.
And, with 1.2 seconds left in the period, they got one of their bigger goals of the season.
Gus Nyquist made a huge play in the Devils zone, controlling the puck and eventually feeding Dylan Larkin, who had backed off to an open area of the ice.
It provided the time and space for Larkin’s team-leading sixth goal.
“The goal at the end of the second was a huge momentum change for us, after it went the other way on us there, through a large part of the second,” Blashill said.
“Unreal play there by Nyquist to give Larkin that opportunity, and good finish by Larkin.”
Larkin is now on pace to match or exceed his 23 goals of last season.
Then, 43 seconds into the third period, Henrik Zetterberg got his second assist of the night and 11th of the season in 21 games, when he took possession of the puck near center ice, delayed for a precious few seconds to help freeze some defenders and allow the rookie Anthony Mantha to gather speed.
Zetterberg fed Mantha, and the long-strider was off in a flash from the center red line. He beat Schneider cleanly, with the goalie barely able to make a move despite drawing a bead on the rookie for his long skate in.
“Zetterberg, maybe the two, three seconds he held on to that puck, he just dished it wide and I was coming with speed,” the understated Mantha said.
“The coaches want me to fire the puck. So, that’s just what I did. And it found the back of the net.”
But the Red Wings' trials were not over for the evening, as the Devils were stubborn, and their old pal Quincey and Henrique did their work, before Green and Nielsen did theirs in overtime.
Mantha also assisted on the winning goal.
Along the way, in the third period, Abdelkader added to what Blashill called his best game in a while by getting behind Mrazek during a wild crease scramble to set up in a goalie’s stance and make a brilliant kick save on a shot that clearly would have gone in.
Several players and Blashill said the key now is to capitalize on the sudden U-turn the Wings have made early in their season.
But that may be a tall order on Saturday. After a big physical effort that went into overtime that was uninterrupted by a whistle, with huge emotional swings throughout the 63:18 of play, and constantly fighting back, the Wings must now face the best team in the NHL, Saturday, the Canadiens.
And the Canadiens had Friday off.