DENVER – The Detroit Red Wings are healthy and ready to make a run at the playoffs.
That might bad news for the rest of the NHL.
Nicklas Lidstrom scored a power-play goal with 9:03 left in the third period and lifted the Red Wings past Colorado on Monday night and put themselves into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Tomas Holmstrom had a goal and two assists, Pavel Datsyuk had two assists and Jimmy Howard made 22 saves for Detroit, which won the first NHL game since Feb. 14 when the NHL took a two-week break for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
The Red Wings, who came within a game last season of repeating as Stanley Cup champions, know they have to start winning to get a chance at another title.
“We’ve got to make a decision that we want to get in,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We’ve got enough bodies now that we should be a good hockey club. We’ve got to decide to be a good hockey club.”
The Red Wings have been hurt by injuries all year, but they’ve gotten key reinforcements back. Monday, Johan Franzen scored his fourth goal in just his seventh game and Andres Lilja returned after missing the whole season with a concussion.
“We know there’s not much time left and we need to make a push,” Howard said. “We feel like all we have to do is get into the playoffs and we’ll be a dangerous team. No one’s going to want to face us.”
Detroit needs to make the playoffs first, and it had to grit out a win against Colorado.
The game was tied when Colorado defenceman Kyle Quincey drew a minor penalty for tripping with 10:01 remaining. Lidstrom’s low shot 58 seconds later beat goalie Craig Anderson for the game-winner.
“When Pav got it back he had two guys lay in front of him so I just followed in behind him and he laid a pretty nice drop pass,” Lidstrom said. “I didn’t shoot it hard I just wanted to make sure it got through.”
The Red Wings needed Lidstrom’s heroics after Colorado wiped out a 2-0 deficit with second-period goals by Chris Stewart and T.J. Galiardi.
“I felt our energy level got better as the game went on,” Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. “We played a team tonight that was very desperate for points.”
The Red Wings scored twice in the first period before Colorado rallied in the second. Galiardi knocked a rebound through Howard’s legs to make it 2-1 with his 10th goal of the season.
The Avalanche got even when Stewart’s slapshot from the left circle beat Howard at 11:14 of the period, his 20th goal of the year.
“We showed good character to come back, especially against a team like Detroit,” Galiardi said.
Both teams had chances to take the lead late in the second. Detroit defenceman Brad Stuart intercepted a pass on a Colorado two-on-one and Anderson stretched to make a right pad save on Franzen, who couldn’t lift the puck into the open net.
Detroit looked in control at the start. Holmstrom scored his 17th goal when he took a pass from Datsyuk and beat Anderson with a quick shot in the top left corner to make it 1-0 6:06 into the game.
Franzen made it 2-0 on the power play when he beat Anderson in the same spot at 12:40 of the first period.
Detroit had a goal waved off when the officials ruled Holmstrom had incidental contact with Anderson with 13:32 left in the second period.
“Homer was in the paint and (referee) Kerry Fraser said he didn’t allow the goalie to play,” Babcock said. “That’s the rule. You’ve got to be outside the paint.”
Two minutes later, Galiardi scored to get Colorado on the board.
But the Red Wings prevailed, and now they’re ready to make noise in the Western Conference playoff race.
“That’s the best lineup we’ve dressed all year,” Babcock said. “Wouldn’t you love to draw us in the first round?”
Notes: Anderson had 27 saves. … The Avalanche activated C Matt Hendricks after missing 12 games with an ankle injury. … Colorado D Ruslan Salei’s assist on Stewart’s goal was his first point of the season. He missed 54 games with a back injury. … Detroit C Jason Williams played in his 400th NHL game.