Detroit — For long stretches against the Rangers Friday, the Red Wings faced their continuing challenge of difficulty just getting the puck out of their own end.
Eventually, though, with Jimmy Howard staving off defeat yet again, the Wings managed.
Then, their young guns startedfiring. And now, the Wings have won five of their last six.
The high-flying Andreas Athanasiou, returning from four games lost to injury, tied the game with 2:02 left in regulation.
And then, in overtime, Athanasiou deftly fed Dylan Larkin who sped into the Rangers’ zone to beat Henrik Lundqvist for his seventh goal of the season.
Larkin’s winning tally came with 5.1 seconds remaining in overtime at Little Caesars Arena.
Third-period goals by Justin Abdelkader and Athanasiou erased a 2-0 lead for the Rangers, who had power-play tallies from Kevin Shattenkirk and Neal Pionk.
“I just took a quick look at the puck and saw that it was kind of trickling down there,” said Athanasiou of the start of three-on-three play in overtime. “And, I was kind of screaming to get the puck up. Greener did a good job of getting the puck up there.
“Larks drove the net really hard, and fortunately the pass got through. He made a good play to put it in.”
Jeff Blashill credits Athanasiou with being locked in and providing solid effort from the first day of training camp this season after contract talks delayed the start of his 2017-18 season.
“I think it’s definitely a good feeling to be back playing hockey, again,” Athanasiou said, of returning from a leg injury. “Obviously, it feels good to win. Anytime you can get a win, it is something to build on.”
Larkin’s heroics, including 24:04 time on ice, two shots on goal in five attempts, three takeaways and 17-7 on faceoffs, sealed the win.
He scored his second consecutive winning goal — both the result of the Wings overcoming decifits.
“The points, right now, for the team are most important,” Larkin said. “We started out in a hole, and we weren’t getting much of anything in the first seven or eight games of the season, and it was frustrating there.
“But, the way we played in the third period, it was fun hockey. And, we worked and worked and worked.”
In the first two periods, the Wings nearly succumbed to penalty problems and their defensive corps' chronic failure to move the puck out of their zone.
In the first period, the Red Wings killed atripping penalty to Mike Green at 25 seconds, yielding two shots.
After killing off another penalty — this one to Darren Helm for delay of game at 6:01 — they had considerable trouble in their own zone.
They had one of their worst possession periods of the season, giving away the puck 13 times in the first 20 minutes.
Their veteran defensemen were the most culpable, with Daley committing three giveaways while DeKeyser and Green each had two.
Howard worked to keep the Wings in the game, making huge saves on Chris Krieder, moving deftly across the entire crease to stop a shot with his blocker, and Jesper Fast, after the Rangers forward descended upon him at point-blank range.
The Rangers outshot the Red Wings 11-6 in the period.
“We couldn’t get the puck out of the zone, number one,” Blashill said. “And the second thing is, I thought we got outcompeted. They came to compete, and we weren’t ready to compete.
“That can’t happen. We’ve got to be better than that.”
The second period started much the same. But, slowly, the Wings began to tilt the ice back towards the Rangers.
Just after the 7-minute mark, they nearly grabbed the lead.
Michael Rasmussen skate with power down the left wing in the Rangers zone, and while warding off a defender with his left arm and controlling the puck with his right, he made his way to the top of the crease and beat Lundqvist, passing by the goalmouth.
But the referees immediately whistled the play down for a hand-pass.
Then, at 16:48 Jacob de la Rose took a four-minute penalty for high sticking.
The Rangers struck twice.
Shattenkirk beat Howard high, with a 27-foot snap shot, at 17:53. And Pionk bounced a wrist shot from the blue line off a Wings’ defender in front of Howard at 18:33.
Then, the Red Wings took over in the third, establishing some geographic superiority and outshooting New York 13-7.
Just over a minute-and-a-half into the period, they managed to victimize a former teammate, exposing one of his weaknesses.
As the Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith attempted to skate the puck out from behind his own net, he unaccountably failed to account for Gustav Nyquist.
On a hard forecheck, Nyquist met Smith face-to-face at the side of the net, to the left of Lundqvist.
Smith halted abruptly.
Nyquist swiped the puck, and transitioning in a blink to offense, he spotted Abdelkader attacking across the mouth and fed him the puck.
Abdelkader cut the lead in half with his fourth goal of the season, on Nyquist’s 12th assist in 16 games played.
Then, the young guns road to the rescue.
“That’s what guys who are difference-makers do,” Blashill said of Athanasiou and Larkin’s late-game performances. “I think both of them want to be that difference-maker type player.
“You’ve got to make big plays in big moments. I’ve said it lots sitting here nights after another one-goal game: It comes down to who makes a play in a big moment, and I think both of them want those moments and they want to be on the ice.
“And, if they can do that, that’s a huge thing.”