Detroit — The Red Wings fought their way back from two three-goal deficits against a key opponent, the Bruins, on Wednesday to tie the game at 5.
Dogged on the three-on-three in overtime, the Wings nonetheless failed to score.
The point available in the standings for their dire pursuit of a playoff berth would have to come in the shootout.
In previous seasons, it was as if the Red Wings dreaded the skills competition the NHL uses to break ties.
They lead the league. By a lot.
After beating the Bruins 6-5 in the shootout, they are perfect for the season, 6-0.
The Flyers were the only team with five wins, and they had four losses.
In previous seasons, and despite the huge comebacks Wednesday that generated considerable constructive energy, the Wings’ confidence would have ebbed while staring a shootout in the face. But with the improved play of their goalies against the breakaway shooters, and the additions of two fine shootout performers, Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen, the Wings were confident of victory.
“Yeah, we got some good shooters and goaltenders stopping the puck,” Henrik Zetterberg said after the particularly hard-fought win.
“It’s nice to see that we can find a way to get two points, when it looks like this today and when it goes all the way to shootouts that we find a way to win. That’s good.”
Zetterberg is resurgent in the shootout. For a while in his career, he remained on the bench while others got the nod.
This season, Zetterberg has two winning goals in the tiebreaker.
Nielsen also has two. Vanek has one. Andreas Athanasiou has one.
If they can sustain their fine performance, their playoff chances increase. It would be a significant change from the recent past four seasons when they were 2-5 in the shootout for 22nd in the NHL, 4-10 for 20th, 5-9 for 18th and 2-5 for 18th.
Their 9-3 record five seasons ago, when they were fifth in the league in 2011-12, was their last winning season.
“I think every point is critical, and the shootout’s important,” Jeff Blashill said of the Red Wings’ performance. “Our goaltenders have done a pretty good job with them, and then we’ve had some guys step up and score goals.”
Nielsen startedcold but has heated up, and is now 2-of-5 in the shootout this season.
He has 44 career shootout goals, the most in history. His career 51.8 shooting percentage is fifth best, among active shooters.
“I don’t know if there’s any key,” Nielsen said earlier in the season. “I just stay with it. I kind of have the same two moves.”
Vanek is 4-for-4 this season, improving his career shooting percentage to 51.2.
And he is mostly using the same move: Faking a shot, often by whiffing over the top of the puck, getting the goalie to bite and firing almost simultaneously.
“It’s a move I’ve done,” Vanek said, after using it in Buffalo earlier this season, before using a variation of it again against the Bruins Wednesday.
“All I’m trying to do is wait for the goalie to drop his glove and, in that instant, get it over.”
Petr Mrazek has been in goal for three shootout wins, and stopped 12 of 15 shots.
Jimmy Howard has been in goal for two of the shootout wins, and stopped five of six shots.
Jared Coreau stopped two of three shots in his shootout victory.
Howard, who was sharp in both the shootout and on penalty shots earlier in his career before hitting a lull in the shootout more recently, was stellar this season in both games, exhibiting enormous confidence.
From before the season under the Red Wings new goaltending coach Jeff Salajko, Howard talked about composure in thoughts and movements and waiting for the play to come to him.
It is the textbook approach for goalies on breakaways.
“Working with him, being a lot more composed, a lot more patient in the net,” Howard said in early October. “Basically not rushing all the shots. Making sure you got your feet set under you so I can push into shots, lean into them.”
The Wings confidence is brimming, mostly because they continue to win in the shootout.
“I think we are just doing good, you know?” said Tomas Tatar, providing about as much analysis as one is likely to muster about the skills competition.
“Our shooters are scoring. Our goalies are holding us, really hard. They’ve been playing real good in the shootout.
“That’s what I think the issue was before: Even when we were scoring, we were getting goals against. Now the goalies are doing a real good job.”
Especially given their position in the standings out of playoff position for most of the first 45 games of the season and trying desperately to get back in, two points in regulation against another contender, like the Bruins, is preferable, because it denies the opponent one.
But their confidence in getting the “extra point” in overtime is a welcomed change.
“We’ve got confidence in the shootout because we’ve done a good job in them,” Blashill said, Wednesday.
“When you add Vanek, you add Nielsen, really you add ‘Double-A’ (Athanasiou) as a full-time player, those are our first three shooters, lots of nights, (Gustav) Nyquist has done a good job, he had a big one in St. Louis, there, they’re really good in the shootout.
“And then, I thought Petr did a good job tonight, as well.”
The Red Wings are 6-0 in shootouts this season. How they did it:
Oct. 27, Red Wings 2, Blues 1: Wings improve to 6-2 on season with sixth consecutive win. Henrik Zetterberg beat Jake Allen for winning goal. Petr Mrazek in goal.
Nov. 8, Red Wings 3, Flyers 2: Wings break five-game winless streak, since shootout win against Blues. Andreas Athanasiou beat Steve Mason for winning goal. Jimmy Howard in goal.
Nov. 23, Red Wings 2, Sabres 1: Wings break four-game losing streak. Thomas Vanek beat Robin Lehner for winner. Howard in goal.
Dec. 6, Red Wings 4, Jets 3: Last win in 5-1-2 stretch that began with shootout win against Sabres. Henrik Zetterberg beat Connnor Hellebuyck for winner. Mrazek in goal.
Dec. 23, Red Wings 4, Panthers 3: First win in four games in Florida this season, sandwiched between losses. Frans Nielsen beat Roberto Luongo for winning goal. Jared Coreau in goal.
Jan. 18, Red Wings 6, Bruins 5: Third win consecutive win, after beating Penguins and Canadiens. Nielsen beat Tuukka Rask for winning goal. Mrazek in goal.