ST. PAUL, Minn. – Mike Babcock watched his players get outhustled, outworked and outplayed for the first 40 minutes and didn’t recognize the team he saw on the ice.
“We weren’t Red Wing-like, in my opinion, for the first two periods,” the Detroit coach said. “We’re a better hockey team than that.” They proved that much in stunning fashion Tuesday night, rallying from a 2-1 deficit in the final 80 seconds and then beating the Minnesota Wild 3-2 in overtime for their eighth straight win.
Dan Cleary tied it with 1:20 to go in regulation and Brett Lebda scored 1:37 into overtime for the Wings, who were dominated in the first two periods.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Wild, who entered 7-3 in their last 10 but lost for the first time in 23 games this season when leading after two periods.
But the Wild took consolation in what coach Jacques Lemaire called the team’s best game of the year against the undisputed kings of the NHL.
“It’s disappointing, but I’m really happy with the way our players respond through the whole game,” Lemaire said. “We played hard, they really played hard. We got a point.”
But they played a little too conservatively in the third period, and it cost them.
Brian Rolston tied a team record with a goal in his sixth straight game and Pavol Demitra also scored for the Wild, who led the best team in the NHL 2-1 with 80 seconds to play.
The Red Wings outshot Minnesota 16-3 in the third period. That hard work paid off when Cleary’s low angle shot surprised Niklas Backstrom and squeaked through his five-hole to tie it at 2.
“That puck had eyes,” Wild centre Eric Belanger said. “That’s why you’re disappointed more than anything else. When a goal like that goes in you’re like, ‘Are you kidding me?’
“We worked those guys hard all night and a flukey goal like that goes in to go to overtime, so that was really tough to swallow.”
Lebda then slipped in the back door and took a perfect pass from Henrik Zetterberg to score his third goal of the season and first in 34 games.
Dominik Hasek continued his dominance of Minnesota, making 24 saves and is unbeaten in 12 career games against the Wild.
“We know we didn’t have our stuff,” Lebda said. “We didn’t have the jump we normally have, but that’s why we have Dom back there. Dom played an unbelievable game and kept us in there the whole time. He gave us a chance to win tonight, and he’s got to be credited for it.”
He stopped Marian Gaborik on a breakaway and subsequent rebound try in the second period, then made the save of the game 51 seconds into the overtime, sliding over at the last second to stop a shot by Brent Burns.
“We could have scored four, five goals very easily,” Lemaire said. “He was outstanding at times. We had great chances.”
Backstrom made 35 saves for the Wild, but he’ll be haunted by the soft goal allowed to Cleary.
“He shot it at the net, it hit our guy’s skate and changed direction,” Backstrom said. “It was a lucky bounce for them.”
The Wild were the aggressors at the start in a marked difference from the last time these two teams met here. In that game, the Wings outshot Minnesota 51-19 in a dominating 4-1 victory.
This time around, the Wild peppered Hasek from all angles in the first period, putting 13 shots on net and making him work for every save.
Despite all their hard work, the Wild were down 1-0 midway through the period when Johan Franzen tipped in a blocker save by Backstrom.
“He wasn’t controlling the rebound like he can,” Lemaire said of Backstrom. “I don’t think it was his best game.” Notes: Rolston’s goal in the first period was just the Wild’s second power-play goal in 22 tries. … Wild F Mark Parrish (head) didn’t dress. … Wings D Niklas Kronwall (shoulder) also didn’t play. … The first period ended rather abruptly. The Xcel Energy Center buzzer didn’t sound, so the official had to blow his whistle. All the players stopped and didn’t realize what happened until the official pointed at the clock.