DETROIT – The surging Detroit Red Wings are moving closer to securing a spot in the playoffs.
Valtteri Filppula scored with 6:49 left and added an empty-net goal, lifting Detroit to a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night.
The Red Wings padded their lead to four points over Calgary for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs with their sixth win in seven games and pulled within four points of being tied for fifth.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock, though, is not resting easy.
“Sleep is overrated,” Babcock said.
St. Louis, meanwhile, moved a step closer toward being eliminated from the race with its fourth loss in six games.
David Backes said the critical loss came down to a few situations in front of the nets.
“Those kind of plays are the reason the Detroit Red Wings are in the playoffs every year,” Backes said.
The Red Wings have been playing their best hockey during their rebuilding season – going 9-2-1 since the Olympic break – after finally getting healthy to improve their chances of making it to a 19th straight post-season and extending the longest such streak in sports.
“We’ve been getting better since we’ve gotten our people back,” Babcock said.
Detroit’s Jimmy Howard made 30 saves to win his 30th win, adding to his Rookie of the Year resume.
Former Red Wing Ty Conklin stopped 20 shots.
“I thought we outplayed them for a good part of the game, especially in the third period,” Conklin said.
Henrik Zetterberg and Todd Bertuzzi scored in the second period to put the Red Wings ahead. Paul Kariya gave St. Louis the lead in the first and Jay McClement made it 2-2 early in the third.
“Some wins aren’t easy and this was one,” Babcock said. “They were battling for their playoff lives. I don’t know if they’re mathematically eliminated, but they’re darn close.”
St. Louis is 10 points behind Detroit and there are teams between the Central Division franchises.
The Blues made it to the playoffs last year after a three-season drought that followed a run from 1980-2004 in which they made it to the post-season each season.
Kariya got the Blues off to a good start, splitting defenceman with speed and flicking a shot between Howard’s pads 5:39 into the game.
Zetterberg, who has been Detroit’s best player lately, scored his 23rd goal 26 seconds into the second period and added an assist to give him 17 points in the last 11 games.
“Z has really pushed here as of late,” Babcock said.
Bertuzzi was credited with a goal that went off his leg and stood after review at the 4:35 mark of the second.
The Blues had a four-minute power play midway through the second period, but failed to take advantage.
“That was a huge key in the game,” Filppula said.
Conklin, though, made some saves to keep the Blues in the game and got a break with Pavel Datsyuk’s breakaway shot went just above the net early in the third, then McClement made it 2-2 less than a minute later.
Brian Rafalski set up the go-ahead goal by simply flicking a shot from centre ice and it bounced off Conklin. Filppula swooped in to get the puck and scored on a backhander.
Conklin wanted to have the puck carom off his stomach.
“Just frustrating,” he said. “One was off a foot and the last one, I’m trying not to back up and get eaten up by it.”
NOTES: Conklin played for Detroit last season as a backup, but wasn’t re-signed to pave the way for Howard, who has somewhat surprisingly become the No. 1 goaltender ahead of Chris Osgood. … The Red Wings are putting playoff tickets on sale Saturday – even tough they might not make it to the post-season. … Kariya has 17 goals, one more than he had two years ago with the Blues and 15 more than he had during an injury-plagued 2008-09 season for them