Red Wings win second straight with rally against Sabres

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Buffalo — The Red Wings are showing this week they simply aren’t very good — at tanking.

Now, they’ve shown they aren’t playoff-caliber for their body of work this season, that’s for sure.

But, they aren’t losing just for the sake of gaining better odds in the Entry Draft lottery, either, Thursday’s 6-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres is the latest example.

It was the Red Wings’ second consecutive victory (29-38-11, 69 points) and moved them nine points ahead of Buffalo (24-41-12), which deservedly has the worst record in the NHL – and the best odds of getting the No. 1 overall pick.

BOX SCORE: Red Wings 6, Sabres 3

The Red Wings quickly trailed in this game, 2-0, but instead of quitting, they did just the opposite and won impressively.

“We got great character,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “I’ve talked about it a lot during the year. It’s easy when things are going well and people talk about character, but that’s not really when character shows.

“Character is when it’s been tough, like it’s been tough here, but we’ve had character and we’ve been competitive and we should have a better record than we have, but it is what is is, and our guys have continued to work.”

With the victory, the Red Wings even climbed over Montreal by a point in the standings and now have five teams between themselves and Buffalo.

So, a top-three pick might not be in the Red Wings’ future.

But, the players on this roster obviously prefer victories — and you can’t fault them for that.

“Every day in this league is an audition, every day is a tryout, and you have to prove yourself,” said Dylan Larkin, whose first-period goal began the rally. “We have a lot of young guys and guys that are trying to find their way, including myself, and every game matters to us, we’re trying to get better and improve on the little things, and build for next year.”

Larkin, Darren Helm (short-handed), Anthony Mantha (power-play), Andreas Athanasiou, Danny DeKeyser and Evgeny Svechnikov (empty-net) scored for the Red Wings, while Jimmy Howard stopped 29 shots.

Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly (power-play) and Evan Rodrigues had Sabres goals.

Captain Henrik Zetterberg had one assist, giving him 954 points and tying him with Sergei Fedorov for fifth all-time on the Red Wings’ career points list.

“It’s special, probably more so when you’re at the end of your career and you’re thinking about it,” Zetterberg said. “I knew I was close but I wasn’t sure where I was.”

The Red Wings were reeling, trailing 2-0, when Larkin’s goal, just 30 seconds after O’Reilly’s power-play goal had put Buffalo in command, changed momentum.

It was Larkin’s 13th goal, fourth in the last six games, and was another example of his continued progress and development in his third NHL season.

Larkin felt he made a bad defensive play on Eichel’s goal to start the scoring, and wanted to make up for it.

“I wasn’t very happy after (Eichel’s goal), thought I did a fly-by on the puck and Eichs (Eichel) picked it up and took it down,” Larkin said. “I kind of put our defensemen in a bad spot. They’re flat-footed going the other way and not many guys are going to be able to adjust gaps to him (Eichel) coming full speed ahead.

“It felt good to get that one back.”

Blashill felt the entire first-period sequence was another example of Larkin’s growth.

“That’s what I love about him, he’s totally self-accountable,” Blashill said. “He’s not an excuse-maker. He looks at that type of situation and says, 'I have to be better than that.'

“The Larkin goal is a big goal. You’re down 2-0 and if they score at that point, it’s hard to come back on the road. We made it 2-1 and that’s way more feasible.”