DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings aren’t used to saying a game is “huge” in January.
Oh, how times have changed. Jimmy Howard made 46 saves and four of his teammates scored, lifting Detroit to a 4-2 victory over the Nashville Predators on Friday night. “It was huge for us,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Howie was sensational.”
Detroit moved into an eighth-place tie with Nashville in the Western Conference standings with about a third of the regular season left.
The Red Wings are hoping to extend their playoff streak to 19 – the longest in sports – leading to Nicklas Lidstrom agreeing with Babcock’s assessment of the victory.
“I do think it was huge, especially playing a team in our division that was two points ahead of us for the last spot in the race,” Lidstrom said. “We know we have to play with a sense of urgency.”
Lidstrom, Jason Williams, Drew Miller and Henrik Zetterberg scored to help Detroit avoid a season-high, four-game losing streak.
“We have better players than we did 10 years ago, but we haven’t been as good of a team,” Babcock said.
Detroit is slowly starting to get some key players back from injury and the latest one to return made an instant impact.
Williams, playing for the first time since breaking his right leg Nov. 7, scored on a power play with 1:33 left in the first period.
Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom is expected back soon and Johan Franzen hopes to return before the Olympic break in two weeks.
The Red Wings will play their next five games on the road, starting with Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a rematch of the teams that split the last two Stanley Cups.
Nashville went 0 for 4 on its trip and has lost a season-high five games in regulation, reverting to the form it had in October during a 1-5-1 slump.
“We’re letting teams back in it,” Predators defenceman Ryan Suter said. “We’ve got to turn it around or it’s going to come back and haunt.”
Nashville didn’t make the playoffs last year after a four-year run.
Francis Bouillon tied it for the Predators in the first period, Shea Weber pulled them within a goal in the third and Dan Ellis stopped 25 shots.
Nashville was 0 for 4 on the power play against Detroit and has scored only once in 21 chances with an extra skater over the last seven games.
The Predators gave up two power-play goals and another goal came just seconds after killing a penalty.
Lidstrom and Miller gave the Red Wings a two-goal cushion with goals a few minutes apart early in the second period.
The Red Wings had four power plays before a penalty was called on them midway through the second, then were called for two more in the period.
Nashville, though, could not take advantage.
“It really came down to special teams,” Ellis said. “We were brutal again. We’ve had some meetings about our power play and our penalty kill. Maybe it’s time to change things. You can’t be 29th in the league on both sides of penalties and expect to win.”
Weber gave the Predators a shot to snap their skid with a goal early in the third and it looked like they were going to tie the game a couple minutes later. Cal O’Reilly hit the crossbar for the Predators, who hit a post in the first period.
Zetterberg gave Detroit a two-goal cushion midway through the third period, squeezing a shot from behind the goal-line between Ellis and the left post on a play that stood after video review.
“It was a fluke goal, the kind that sucks the life right out of a team,” Ellis said. “I was a split second late covering the corner.”
The Red Wings were called for a penalty with 1:35 left and Nashville pulled Ellis to have a two-skater advantage, but couldn’t get another shot past Howard.
“We really controlled the play,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “I don’t ever remember getting 48 shots on them before. Howard was really good.”
NOTES: A season-ticket holder interviewed during a second-period break took a shot at benched goalie Chris Osgood after saying Howard was his favourite player. “It’s so good to have a goalie again,” the fan said. The stunned crowd booed and started an “Oz-zie! Oz-zie!” chant. … Detroit leads Nashville 2-1 in the six-game season series. … Nashville scratched F Wade Belak because of a foot injury. … Lidstrom has seven points in four games and 19 in 17. … Nashville quickly left Joe Louis Arena, hoping to get home safely to their snow-blanketed city to play Saturday against Atlanta.