The Detroit Red Wings are still in the playoff race without Datsyuk and Zetterberg

The Hockey News
(Photo by Dave Reginek/NHL)
(Photo by Dave Reginek/NHL)

The Detroit Red Wings, against all odds, are still in the mix in the Eastern Conference playoff race. And they’re doing it the wild way, as they did in their dramatic 5-4 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Daniel Alfredsson scored with 0.4 seconds left in overtime to give the Red Wings the win.

It was Alfredsson’s second goal and third point of the game.

Imagine Pittsburgh without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Chicago without Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Anaheim without Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry or Vancouver without the Sedins.

That’s the type of hand Detroit has been dealt with its top two stars, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, both out at a critical point in the season.

And yet, the Red Wings are making a gallant late-season charge toward the post-season, hoping to push their streak of consecutive playoff appearances to 23. They’re doing it without the injured Datsyuk and Zetterberg, and Stephen Weiss as well, leaving newly acquired David Legwand to center the top line between Johan Franzen and Alfredsson.

The Wings haven’t been doing it the easy way, as Thursday night’s frantic back-and-forth 5-4 win over the Penguins showed. Detroit jumped out ahead 2-0, only to give it back as Pittsburgh, powered by a pair of goals in 25 seconds, took a 3-2 lead by the end of second period. The Wings got two more in a span of 2:16 midway through the third period to take a 4-3 lead before the Penguins tied it exactly two minutes later.

Then late in the game, all looked lost for the Wings when Legwand took an ugly five-minute major after butt-ending Malkin.

But the Wings killed off the penalty and scored late when Alfredsson’s shot on a 3-on-1 break ricocheted of Rob Scuderi and in past Marc-Andre Fleury. It was the second own-goal of the game by Scuderi and the third on the night for the Penguins, who had another go in off Olli Maatta.

Gustav Nyquist continues to power Detroit offensively, scoring again Thursday. He’s the latest late-round draft pick (121st overall in 2008) to strut his stuff for the Wings, and he couldn’t have picked a better time to do it with Datsyuk and Zetterberg out. Nyquist now has 15 goals in his past 21 games, dating back to Jan. 20, most in the NHL since then. Overall, he has 20 goals and 36 points in 44 games.

Still, what the Wings really need is for goaltender Jimmy Howard to return to form. Coach Mike Babcock has been riding him since Sochi, starting him in eight of 11 games. But Howard has allowed three or more goals in five of those eight games. With the Wings already offensively challenged without Datsyuk and Zetterberg, Howard has to be better.

Detroit is just one point out of the final wildcard, held by the Columbus Blue Jackets, who beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2.

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