Confidence, goaltending carrying Red Wings during hot stretch

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Newark, N.J. — The Red Wings hit the quarter-pole in the NHL standings Saturday afternoon at Prudential Center.

Maybe not exactly — there are 82 games in the NHL, so there’s no simple way to cut them into fourths — but it's as close as they’ll get.

Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jonathan Bernier made 38 saves in Saturday's 3-2 overtime victory over the New Jersey Devils.

And the way they’ve done, including Saturday’s 3-2 overtime victory over New Jersey, has been a revelation.

After a dismal first 10-game stretch (1-7-2), the Wings have gotten back to even, going 8-2-0 to reach the 20-game mark with a respectable 9-9-2 record.

“After our start everyone was counting us out,” said forward Dylan Larkin, who scored the winner in overtime. “Here we are, the last 10 games, we’ve showed not only the league and our fans but ourselves, that we can play with every team on a nightly basis.

“We’re winning games and we’re having fun and we’re rolling. We need to keep this going.”

How have the Wings been able to turn things around?

There’s been an amazing sense of resiliency, for sure.

Including Saturday’s win, the Wings have rallied from two-goal deficits for the fourth time in the last six games.

The Devils had a 2-0 lead late in Saturday’s second period, only to see Luke Glendening cut it in half with just over a minute left, and Michael Rasmussen tie it on a deflection midway in the third.

“It’s awesome, it feels good coming in after games,” Larkin said. “We come from behind, we’re finding ways to win instead of last year where it was going the opposite ways. We’d be leading and we found ways where we fell apart.

“It feels good, it seems like it’s a different way every time. A slow start (Saturday), but we did it again; we didn’t panic, we stuck to our game and got on the forecheck and that’s when we started playing.”

It’s getting to the point where it appears the Wings have their opponents right where they want them when trailing late in the game.

Obviously, the Wings would prefer not to be trailing late. But if they have to, they’re showing a confidence that is carrying them nicely these days.

“We’ve made big plays at big moments, whether it’s been a save or goal,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Our goaltenders have played real well,and we’ve gotten a lot of net-front presence.

“Hopefully we’ve grown as a hockey team. That’s what we’ve tried to do. We were in some really close games early in the season and we didn’t win them.

“Now we’re finding ways to win.”

This Wings team is displaying confidence that wasn’t apparent during the first 10-game stretch.

“Confidence is the biggest factor to success in the NHL today because of how close every team is, how close every player is,” Blashill said. “I can’t say that enough times. I don’t know if it’s understood totally from the outside, but it’s the biggest factor.

“As you win you gain confidence and certainly gain some swagger.”

The goaltending has been the Wings’ most consistent aspect during these first 20 games, whether it’s Jimmy Howard or Jonathan Bernier.

On Saturday it was Bernier who gave his team a chance for victory, making 38 saves including several key stops in the third period to take the game into overtime.

“He was great,” Blashill said. “Our goaltending has been real good during this stretch. That would probably be the other thing in the last 10 games, we’ve gotten real good goaltending every night.”

Net-front and center

For a rookie, Rasmussen seems to be carving out a way to success in the NHL.

Saturday’s goal was his fifth of the season and he scored for the third consecutive game — all in the general vicinity of right in front of the opposing net.

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound rookie is a dangerous net-front presence, with his hand-eye coordination being an effective attribute.

“He’s an excellent net-front guy, and he’s good player everywhere else,” Blashill said. “So where is a guy going to separate himself in the NHL? To me, it’s net-front for him.

“He’s going to score a lot of goals in this league because he knows how to go to the net, he knows how to tip pucks, screen, how to leverage his body.

“He’s going to be a good net-front guy for a long time.”

Said Rasmussen: "You guys always kind of ask me that (about net-front presence), and I just say the same thing. It’s kind of my game, my job.”

Helm hurt

The only bad news Saturday was an injury to forward Darren Helm that likely will keep him out of the lineup for “some time,” Blashill said.

Helm suffered some sort of arm injury, either left shoulder area or left wrist, after an awkward fall along the boards early in the first period.

“I don’t have a time period," Blashill said. "I’ll know more Monday, but he’ll be out for some time.”

Blashill acknowledged it was a significant injury, but wouldn’t speculate as to how long Helm would be unavailable until further tests Monday.

Helm had worked his way onto the first line, playing alongside Larkin and Anthony Mantha, with his usual grit and energy.

“It hurts," Larkin said. "He’s such a consistent player for us, he kills penalties and forechecks hard and he’s someone I love playing with."

Glendening added Helm’s veteran presence will be missed.

“Absolutely, he’s been a huge part of this team for a long time,” Glendening said. “To see him get hurt again, it’s devastating, but we wish him the best and we’ll continue on.

“But his presence will be missed, that’s for sure.”