“The tide has officially turned!” announced hockey analyst and former Red Wing Larry Murphy, as he watched tonight’s game. Maybe it was the return of Chris Chelios that did the trick. Maybe it was the successful 5-on-3 penalty kill. Or maybe the team suddenly remembered that their best defensive strategy is to spend as much time on offense as possible. Whatever the case, the momentum certainly seems to be swinging back in Detroit’s favor, as they picked up their third straight win, a 6-2 decision over the Atlanta Thrashers.
The Thrashers came out with a lot more energy than the Wings had at the beginning of the game, and they were rewarded with the first goal. Chris Chelios, back in the lineup after missing nine games with a leg injury, attempted to clear the puck from the zone. Tony Hrkac intercepted it at the blue line and centered a pass to Per Svartvadet, who one-timed a shot from the high slot. The puck went up and over Curtis Joseph.
The game’s momentum turned late in the first when Joseph and the Red Wings withstood eight shots during a 3:01 power play that included a 59-second stretch in which Atlanta had a two-man advantage. Pavel Datsyuk had been sent off for hooking first, then Kris Draper was sent out after him. “We wanted to get a good start, but to kill a five-on-three was big for us,” said Joseph. “That was huge for us.”
Detroit wasted no time in unleashing their offense once the second period got underway. Brett Hull put the Wings on the board at 1:16. Henrik Zetterberg sent the pass across at center ice, and Hull carried up the left wing side to shoot on Byron Dafoe just as he crossed the blue line. The puck slid in between the goalie’s legs.
Brendan Shanahan came next. Sergei Fedorov flew into the Thrasher’s zone and got the first shot away, and Kirk Maltby grabbed the rebound and sent in another shot. When Dafoe let that rebound slip away as well, Shanahan pounced on it and slapped it into the net to extend his point streak to four games.
Boyd Devereaux scored the eventual game winner less than two minutes later. Patrick Boileau knocked the puck out of a player tangle in front of Dafoe’s net. Devereaux picked it up and circled behind, then turned and stuffed the puck in between the goalpost and Dafoe’s right skate.
The Thrashers pulled Dafoe after that to send in backup goalie Pasi Nurminen, but they took too long to make the change and were assessed a two minute bench minor penalty. During the resulting Detroit power play, Hull redirected a shot by Nicklas Lidstrom into a wide open net to give his team a 4-1 lead.
Atlanta did narrow the lead to two goals late in the second. Patrick Stefan took a pass from Frantisek Kaberle at center ice, and his speed allowed him to push into the zone, splitting between Chelios and Zetterberg and putting the puck in past Joseph.
Nurminen injured his groin late in the second period, causing the Thrashers to send Dafoe back in to start the third. The Red Wings continued to pressure and keep the Thrashers away from the puck. Midway through the period, Pavel Datsyuk added to the lead. Zetterberg fought for the puck in the right corner, then threaded a pass past two defensemen to Datsyuk, who was wide open in front of the net. Datsyuk’s stick-handling seemed to confuse Dafoe, and the young Russian was able to put the puck in high on Dafoe’s far side.
Joseph was called on to make some big saves as the Thrashers tried to turn up the pressure, and he made them. Stefan looked as if he surely had his second goal of the night, facing a nearly empty net, but Joseph dove across from the other side of the crease to make the stop.
Shanahan and Sean Avery still had some business to take care of with the Thrashers. Dan Snyder had put a nasty hit on Devereaux earlier in the period, and Avery noted the jersey number and dropped the gloves to fight as soon as he got the chance. Avery and Snyder both took fighting major penalties. Later, Marc Savard bowled over Larionov. Shanahan took exception to this and jumped in to defend his smaller teammate. Shanahan was given a roughing minor, but Savard was given two minutes for roughing and two minutes for charging, letting the Red Wings end the game on a power play.
Detroit outshot Atlanta by a count of 34-28. They’ll need all their regained momentum for their next game: a Tuesday night matchup against the Vancouver Canucks at the Joe.