'Big plays, big moments': Hot Wings picking up wins, confidence
Raleigh, N.C. – The entire “Lose for Hughes” movement is losing steam.
For the first few weeks of the season the Red Wings were losing games – a lot of them – and fans who wanted them to tank so they could draft Jack Hughes first in the NHL draft were thrilled.
It seemed like a safe bet, given the way the Wings were losing.
Not so fast.
The Wings have taken an advantage of their home-heavy schedule here in early November, and Saturday in Carolina, continued to show resilience.
They won their third consecutive game after falling behind two goals, this time 4-3 in a shootout, and now have also won six of seven games overall.
“We’ve made big plays at big moments of the games,” said coach Jeff Blashill of the hot streak. “They haven’t been all much different aside from the two games in Boston and Montreal (blowout losses). Every game we’ve played has been a one-goal game. So now it comes down to: Make a play.
“We had two of these types of games in the first three games, in overtime (loss to Columbus) and shootout (loss to Anaheim) and we lost them. Now, we’re finding ways to get those points.
“We have to keep making plays.”
Saturday it was Anthony Mantha scoring two goals in the third period to erase a 3-1 deficit, goaltender Jonathan Bernier making a career-high 49 saves, and Frans Nielsen – the league’s all-time shootout king – scoring the lone goal in the shootout.
It was a recipe that worked against a Carolina team that had dominated the second period and appeared the have the Wings – who had played the night before – right where they wanted them.
“The first five games of the year, we played our best hockey and we just couldn’t get a win there,” Nielsen said. “Now it’s the other way. It’s evening itself out.
“It’s fun right now. We’re sticking together and we’re finding ways (to win), and it’s fun when you’re playing like that.”
According to the NHL, it’s the first time in franchise history the Wings have overcome multi-goal deficits to win three straight regular-season games.
“We’re playing with confidence, we know we can do it,” said Nielsen of the belief the Wings have now when trailing. “We’re definitely not playing our best hockey, but we are finding ways and we’ll take that.”
Now, the Wings aren't planning a Stanley Cup parade route just yet. Even with the spurt, the Red Wings are still below .500 (7-8-2) and in seventh place in the eight-team Atlantic Division heading into Sunday's games.
But there’s three more winnable games this week (home against Arizona, on the road against Ottawa and New Jersey), and a chance to move up and gain more confidence, before the schedule takes a more difficult turn in December.
“We dug ourselves a deep hole early, and this gets us back into where there’s some light,” Blashill said. “Let’s make sure to go Tuesday (against Arizona) and play a great game.”
Saturday was another indication of the type of impact Mantha can have on a game.
Mantha only has five goals, seven points total, and has a team-worst minus-11 rating.
But Blashill says Mantha has been a factor since for almost two weeks now and is trending upward.
“Since Dallas (Oct. 28) he’s played very well throughout that stretch and hasn’t gotten rewarded with points,” Blashill said. “I don’t think you can judge points in the short term. If he plays the way he’s played over the last number of games he’ll get rewarded and he’ll get goals, assists, points.
“He just has to keep skating. He’s done a real good of it overall. He’s a real good player the last number of games, he just has to keep going.”
Mantha has stayed optimistic during his goal shortage, and is putting in the work off the ice.
“Confidence is a big thing in hockey,” Mantha said. “I’ve been working pretty hard in the gym. I just have to keep going that way and hopefully the results come on the ice.
“I was part of it (impact on Saturday's game) and I want to be part of it every game. I need to keep focusing and shoot the puck a little more.”
Bernier was signed as an unrestricted free agent to upgrade the backup goaltending position behind Jimmy Howard.
Saturday was a classic example of that plan working, with Bernier making the 49 saves and stopping all three Carolina shooters in the shootout.
“Our goalie kept us within reach,” Blashill said. “It allows you to come back. You can’t come back if you get down three or four goals.”
Said Bernier: “I work hard in practice to stay in good shape. I thought in the second I ran out (of gas) a little bit, I felt like they were in our zone the whole period. But we recovered well in the third period. I felt good. It’s not the way you definitely want to win, but it shows character.”