By Michael Caples –
DETROIT – It’s been a long time since the Red Wings played such meaningful regular-season games at Joe Louis Arena.
The situation didn’t seem to bother them Monday night, however.
Despite being outshot 12-4 in the opening period, the Red Wings scored a pair of goals in the opening period, and never relinquished the lead, as they recorded a crucial 4-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes.
Johan Franzen and Damien Brunner had first period, tallies, while Valtteri Filppula scored for the Wings in the second. Henrik Zetterberg assisted on all three goals.
Franzen added an empty-netter at the 18:38 mark of the third.
Jimmy Howard made 34 saves for his 18th win and fourth shutout of the season.
“It was nice to get that start, get one on the power play, get it going, and the PK was huge for us in the first. Howie once again came up big, and he always gives us a chance to win. He’s been unbelievable for us this year.
The win pulls the Red Wings within one point of eighth-place Columbus with three games left. The Blue Jackets only have two games remaining.
“It feels like a playoff-type game out there,” Justin Abdelkader said. “Intensity’s high, obviously we know what’s on the line, and that they’re only two points behind us. It was an intense game out there, both teams obviously wanted the points, and I thought it was good for us to come off that road trip and have a game like this tonight.”
When asked if the players understand how important the streak is, coach Mike Babcock said that’s never been an issue.
“Well they’re big boys,” Babcock said. “They understand what’s going on more than anybody. They make their living here, and they take a lot of pride in wearing the sweater. I think our commitment to details, our commitment to process, all that’s been very good. Just because people on the outside that don’t live here don’t think the same way doesn’t change the way we think. We’re a different team than we’ve been; that doesn’t mean we’re not working or competing.”
The Wings converted on three of five power-play opportunities, while shutting down the Coyotes on four different shorthanded situations. All three of the Wings’ goals that weren’t on the empty net were recorded on the man-advantage.
Franzen gave the Red Wings the early lead when he redirected a fake shot by Brunner from the slot, sending the puck past Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith between his arm and body. It was Franzen’s 11th goal of the season, and it came just 2:37 into the contest.
Brunner scored with 36 seconds remaining in the opening period, finishing off a cross-ice pass from Zetterberg with a quick release from the face-off circle. Niklas Kronwall also picked up an assist on the play.
In the second period, Filppula added to the Wings’ lead, firing in a short pass from Zetterberg from the bottom of the circle. It was his eighth goal of the season.
Franzen added the empty-netter after Abdelkader’s attempt was blocked by Zbynek Michalek’s stick, as the Coyotes’ defenseman stood in front of the Phoenix goal.