Despite trailing 3-0 early in the second period, the Detroit Red Wings quickly grabbed the momentum and never looked back.
Dan Cleary scored in overtime to give the Wings a 4-3 overtime win over the Nashville Predators. The victory locks up a playoff berth and essentially gives them the Central Division title with just four games remaining and a game in hand on Nashville.
Detroit successfully responded to their uncharacteristic 10-3 loss to St. Louis on Wednesday.
The first 20 minutes featured 60 minutes worth of action. It was a parade to the penalty box for both sides, and Nashville capitalized late in the period on a two-man advantage. Ryan Suter’s slap-shot from the point eluded a screened Jimmy Howard to put the Preds up 1-0 at the 19:00 mark.
Suter’s fourth goal of the year came almost three minutes after Nicklas Lidstrom’s goal was waved off due to a goalie interference penalty on Tomas Holmstrom. There was a total of 26 penalty minutes in the first period, including a fight between Shane O’Brien and Todd Bertuzzi.
“It’s going to get called,” Preds coach Barry Trotz said of Holmstrom’s penalty that negated a goal. “It was the right call. He went right into Peks and if you watch it, he throws his elbow right into Peks’ head and twists his head and he can’t make a save.”
Early on in the second, Wings defenseman Brad Stuart flipped the puck over the glass, sending the Preds to another power play. Martin Erat made them pay when he buried a slap-pass from Shea Weber at 1:42 of the period. Under a minute later, Sergei Kostitsyn pounced on a Mike Fisher rebound off the end boards to give the Preds a 3-0 lead.
Detroit called a timeout, which seemed to spark things a bit. Bertuzzi was involved in another fight with O’Brien six seconds after the goal, followed by Jakub Kindl and Justin Abdelkader cutting the Preds’ lead to one with goals 1:21 apart. Pekka Rinne was screened on Kindl’s shot from the point, while Abdelkader deflected home Detroit’s second tally.
The Red Wings carried that momentum into the third period as Abdelkader struck again and tied the game at three when he re-directed a Bertuzzi pass past Rinne at 3:59.
Midway through the third, Howard made an outstanding post-to-post pad save on Joel Ward to keep the game tied. The Preds also had two power play chances in the final seven minutes, but failed to convert, sending the game to overtime.
“We had fifteen scoring chances in the third; they had four,” Trotz said. “Jimmy Howard was really the difference. It wasn’t poor play by us or anything – he was the difference in the third.”
After Howard made another key stop early in overtime, Cleary tipped in the game-winner at 2:58 to polish off the 4-3 comeback victory. Henrik Zetterberg won the preceding faceoff, and Brian Rafalski’s shot from the point was tipped in front by Cleary for his 25th goal of the season.
The win gives Detroit 100 points on the season, while Nashville gained one to go up to 95 points. This loss was the first time since Jan. 16 that the Preds have lost a game when scoring three goals.
For the third time in the last ten days, the Preds have had trouble holding onto substantial leads. Against Anaheim and Colorado, they almost let late leads get away; and then today, where they couldn’t take advantage of a three-goal lead.
“You can’t take your foot off the gas,” Suter said. “It’s obviously frustrating. I don’t know if it’s a mindset now, or what it is. Even when we’re up, we have to get that killer instinct and pretend we are down a goal and go after it.”
“You have to play sixty minutes,” Trotz said about the recent stretch of games. “Ask any coach – sometimes a three-goal lead is very difficult to hold onto.”
Nashville had won four of the first five head-to-head meetings with the Wings, but couldn’t hold on today. Two weeks from now, they could be facing each other in the first round.
Trotz’s crew hosts Atlanta Tuesday night looking to inch closer towards another playoff berth.