LOS ANGELES, Calif. – After Tomas Tatar knocked the rebound into the Kings’ net for Detroit’s tiebreaking goal, he kissed his index finger and pointed it skyward.
In his first game since his father’s death back home in Slovakia, Tatar honoured him with a beautiful goal and a graceful gesture, sending the Red Wings on to an emotional victory.
Tatar scored the winning goal with 7:54 to play in the Red Wings’ 3-1 win over Los Angeles on Saturday night.
Tatar had an early assist on Riley Sheahan’s first NHL goal, and he completed a cathartic night by jumping on Sheahan’s shot in the slot and beating Jonathan Quick for a goal in his third straight game—but the first since his father, 60-year-old Jan, died of a liver ailment.
“That game and that goal was for him,” Tatar said. “I felt he was with us the whole game. It wasn’t easy, but the guys helped me a lot. They helped me think about stuff other than my dad.”
Tatar made the long trip home during Detroit’s holiday break to see his father, but he isn’t sure whether Jan, a former soccer player, realized his son is headed to the Olympics next month.
“I was hoping he could make it through,” Tatar said. “I just wanted to work as hard as I could for my dad. This game was for him.”
Tatar will play for the Wings on Sunday night in Anaheim before heading home for his father’s funeral, missing a game against the Rangers next week.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock praised the 23-year-old’s quiet maturity.
“The way you honour your father or your mother when they pass is by continuing to do what you should do,” Babcock said. “Playing hard and doing things well. I lost my mom early, too. I never wanted to let her down. And his dad is here with him.”
Daniel Cleary also scored in the third period, and Jimmy Howard made 44 saves as the Red Wings slowed their recent slump by sending Los Angeles to its seventh loss in nine games.
Howard made several big saves in the final minute as Detroit hung on for its second win in five games, but also injured his hip flexor, according to Babcock. Backup Petr Mrazek will start when the Red Wings face NHL-leading Anaheim.
Drew Doughty scored his first goal in a month during a two-man advantage, but the Kings couldn’t score in the final two periods of their third loss in 10 home games. Quick stopped 23 shots, but also gave up a juicy rebound on Tatar’s go-ahead goal.
“We outshot them, but we had some scoring opportunities that we didn’t get a good shot off,” Kings forward Anze Kopitar said. “We were trying to do too much, and in a situation like that, we’re got to make sure we get a good shot off so that whoever’s a couple of feet from the net can try to get the rebound. We just have to bear down a lot better.”
Cleary finished off the Kings by capitalizing on an opportunity created by Luke Glendening, who knocked Jake Muzzin to the ice and fed Cleary for his fourth goal with 2:34 to play.
Los Angeles lost in regulation for the first time in four games on a five-game homestand.
Quick hadn’t lost in regulation since returning from a 24-game absence with a groin injury, but his teammates returned to their low-scoring ways after a four-goal outburst against Boston two nights ago. Los Angeles has scored more than three goals in a game just once since Dec. 19.
“You can’t win every game 1-0 or 2-1,” Kings forward Justin Williams said. “Certainly we had enough chances to win the game tonight, but we didn’t do it. The onus is on us to put the puck in the back of the net.”
After Doughty’s goal late in the first period, Detroit evened it when Sheahan flipped home a puck in front while being checked to the ice, scoring his first goal in seven career NHL games over two seasons.
The 22-year-old Sheahan was a first-round pick in 2010, playing three seasons at Notre Dame before winning a Calder Cup with the Wings’ AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids last year. Detroit recalled him from the AHL on Friday.
“I wasn’t able to really feel the feeling when I scored,” Sheahan said. “But now I’m pretty excited to go talk to my parents about it.”
NOTES: Detroit also won without veteran forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Alfredsson. Datsyuk missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury, while Alfredsson sat with back spasms. … Kings F Jeff Carter played his 600th NHL game. … The teams meet again in a week at Joe Louis Arena.