'We're just having fun': Mantha's 5-point night leads Wings in 5th straight win
Detroit — The Red Wings are playing loose, they’re having fun, and they’re gaining confidence with each victory.
But, most importantly, the core of this roster — young players who are expected to key the turn around — are driving this late-season surge.
They did so again Sunday, defeating a playoff-bound Boston team 6-3.
Anthony Mantha had his first NHL hat trick and had five points total, Tyler Bertuzzi had three assists, Dylan Larkin a goal and assist, and Andreas Athanasiou had two assists to key the surge.
Oh, and college free-agent acquistion Taro Hirose (Michigan State) scored his first NHL goal, continuing an impressive stretch since he’s come aboard.
In all, the Wings have suddenly won five consecutive games and seven of eight overall, and moved to 27th overall in the NHL, past Buffalo.
“Obviously we don’t have lots of pressure on us, so that can be a tricky thing when you don’t have a lot of pressure,” said coach Jeff Blashill about the surge. “But also part of the reason we’re winning is our young guys have been excellent and we’ve gotten very good goaltending.
“That’s two reasons for this stretch.”
And to those fans who would have preferred the Wings just keep losing and drop in the standings to gain better odds in the Entry Draft?
Blashill believes watching the likes of Larkin, Mantha, and the rest of the group excelling as well as they have the last few weeks is much better news than increasing draft odds.
“I’d be way more concerned if I was the fan base that our young guys weren’t able to go head to head against these players who are the elite players in the league,” said Blashill, who felt the Larkin line outplayed Boston’s vaunted trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. “The fact our young players are the ones who are driving this win streak should temper some of those concerns because these are the guys who are going to make the impact sooner than anyone we draft, and that’s the reality of it.”
Mantha tied the game 3-3 with his third goal (and 22nd of the season) — and second on the power play — at 1:17 of the third period, one-timing a pass from Bertuzzi.
Athanasiou then won the faceoff, gathered the puck, split the Bruins defense with his speed and found Hirose, who beat goalie Jaro Halak for his first career goal at 1:25.
Mantha found Hronek alone near the dot for a one-timer at 12:03 of the third period. The goal was Hronek's fifth and gave the Wings a 5-3 lead before Larkin ended it with an empty netter, his 32nd, with 58 seconds left.
“We’re just having fun right now trying to build chemistry for next year,” said Mantha of his line with Larkin and Bertuzzi. “We’re doing the right things and keeping it simple and finding each other on the ice.”
Mantha believes there’s a great vibe around the Wings these days.
“It’s been a lot of fun, everyone is smiling and everyone is more relaxed and it shows out there, too,” Mantha said. “That’s how it goes. All the younger guys are the guys, they’re playing in their first couple of games, and they’re enjoying the moments and getting their chances and doing the right things and keeping it simple.”
Goalie Jimmy Howard stopped 31 Boston shots to earn the victory.
The Wings won the season series over the Bruins, taking three of four games.
The Wings continue to win despite a slew of injuries. They lost Danny DeKeyser during the game with a lower body injury — Blashill said DeKeyser’s availability is day to day — the 11th regular to go down with an injury.
But the Wings are patching together a lineup that's hungry, fast, and playing simple but effective hockey.
“This has been the best part of this season,” Bertuzzi said. “It’s something we can all grow on and bring to next season for sure. We’re playing good hockey right now.
“We just have three games left and then we’ll worry about next season later on, but it’s something you can build on and take into next year.”