NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Detroit Red Wings know how to rebound from an ugly loss. They’re pretty good at comebacks, too.
Danny Cleary tipped in Brian Rafalski’s shot 2:58 into overtime for Detroit’s fourth unanswered goal, leading the Red Wings to a 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators on Saturday that clinched their 20th straight playoff berth.
Cleary called it a big win coming off Wednesday’s embarrassing 10-3 loss to St. Louis.
“We definitely came out with a lot more urgency and more determination in our game,” Cleary said. “We needed that after the last outing. It was rock bottom. Certainly, it was a good step for us. We responded well.”
Justin Abdelkader had two goals, and Jakub Kindl also scored as Detroit (45-23-10) improved to 2-3-2 in its last seven games. Rafalski finished with two assists and Jimmy Howard stopped 31 shots in his first game back after missing two with a strained left shoulder.
The Red Wings extended the longest active playoff streak among North America’s four major professional sports. They also got to 100 points for an 11th straight season, extending their own NHL record.
But Detroit coach Mike Babcock was most impressed with how his team bounced back in this game after being down 3-0.
“The guys could have easily sagged, but they didn’t. They responded,” he said. “I thought we had a good physical play tonight.”
Ryan Suter had a power-play goal and an assist, Sergei Kostitsyn and Martin Erat scored, and Mike Fisher had two assists for Nashville (42-26-11). The second-place Predators blew a chance to pull within two points of Detroit in the Central Division with a week left in the season, allowing the Red Wings to leave town with a comfortable five-point cushion.
“Everyone knew how important the game was for both teams and certainly how we were going to respond,” Cleary said.
Both teams scored twice in the first five minutes of the second period, with Detroit beating Pekka Rinne twice 1:22 apart to pull within one.
“We had a three-goal lead for what, two minutes? Three minutes?” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “It didn’t feel like we had a three-goal lead and just gave it away. They were right back in the game.”
The Predators certainly had plenty of chances but went 1-for-5 with the one-man advantage and 1-for-3 with a two-man edge, including two missed opportunities in the final seven minutes of regulation.
“That was definitely a frustrating one to lose that way,” Fisher said. “The bright side is we got a point, and they’re all important right now.”
Howard, who gave up the three goals in the first 23 minutes, kept the Red Wings alive with a stretching stick save on Joel Ward midway through the third. He also stopped Patric Hornqvist trying to score off the rebound of Suter’s shot on a power play late in regulation. He also denied Kostitsyn from in front 30 seconds into overtime.
Cleary’s tip-in was his 25th of the season. Rafalski also had the first assist on Abdelkader’s tying goal.
Detroit looked primed for a fast start when Nicklas Lidstrom scored on an early power play, but it was waved off for a goaltender interference call on Tomas Holmstrom.
The Red Wings killed off that penalty, before Abdelkader was penalized for boarding Erat, and Holmstrom was called for delay of game for putting the puck over the glass 27 seconds later, giving Nashville a 5-on-3. Suter scored on a slap shot from the high slot 34 seconds later for a 1-0 lead.
Erat picked up Nashville’s second power-play goal early in the second and Kostitsyn made it 3-0 with a slap shot at 2:37, prompting Babcock to take a timeout.
Detroit’s Todd Bertuzzi and Nashville defenceman Shane O’Brien fought briefly, and that seemed to fire up the Red Wings. Kindl scored on a snap shot for Detroit at 3:28 after a turnover by Nashville. Abdelkader then converted a tip-in.
Abdelkader tied it up at 3:59 of the third, earning his seventh of the season with a wrister.
“We’re fighting for our lives, and they are fighting for their lives,” Abdelkader said. “It was a battle, and I thinkit was a huge road win for us and a big division win.”
NOTES: The Red Wings scratched Niklas Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk missed his seventh straight game overall and third against Nashville this season, this time with a lower body injury. … Detroit had scored only one goal in its previous two games in Nashville. … Detroit improved to 11-1-2 in the first of back-to-back games. … Kostitsyn became Nashville’s first 20-goal scorer this season and extended his points streak to a career-best nine straight games. He has four goals and seven assists in the surge.