And still they couldn’t push the puck past Chris Osgood to force overtime. That sums up their struggle to end Detroit’s run atop the Central Division and the Western Conference – only to keep coming up short head-to-head. Pavel Datsyuk scored the go-ahead goal in the second period and had an assist, and the Red Wings beat Nashville 2-1 Thursday night and moved back into a tie with the Predators atop the NHL.
The Red Wings, Predators and Buffalo all have 105 points, but Detroit has a game in hand on Nashville with its four of final five games left against Central Division cellar dwellers Columbus and Chicago.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said he isn’t worrying about standings, finishing first or fourth.
“We’re in the playoffs, and one through eight, I don’t know who we want to play … Which team do we match up best against? I can’t figure it out, so I’m not spending any time doing it,” Babcock said.
Nashville blew a chance to pad its lead and has four games left to win a franchise-best 50th game. Three of those are at home. Not that anyone is making excuses, but several Predators pointed out they were short-handed with five forwards out – four to injuries including Steve Sullivan (back).
Forsberg, who played nearly 22 minutes, said they tried to battle despite running low on forwards and are frustrated at not having control in their own hands.
“We have to rely on Detroit losing two points, and we go undefeated. It was two huge points we lost today,” he said.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz pointed out Detroit had scored only seven more goals in this series with a couple of empty netters.
“I’d like to see our club healthy and play them,” he said.
Detroit came into this game having already won the season series with five victories in the first seven games. The Red Wings finished off the series finale in style with their fourth straight victory against Nashville and 13 of 16 possible points.
Johan Franzen also scored, and Todd Bertuzzi had two assists for the Red Wings.
“It’s a fun game to play with Nashville,” Datsyuk said. “Both teams have great players and try to play their game.”
David Legwand scored Nashville’s only goal and said there was enough clutching and grabbing in the game that it felt like the old NHL. Detroit killed off four of five power plays.
The Predators weren’t happy with the finish.
They got a man advantage with 2:35 left after Franzen tripped over goalie Tomas Vokoun’s stick-hand. Vokoun headed toward the bench with 100 seconds left to attack.
Osgood, getting the start in net to keep Dominik Hasek from playing back-to-back games with Dallas visiting Friday night, stopped three shots. Alexander Radulov was checked to the ice by Kris Draper trying to keep the puck in the offensive zone, and both wound up in the penalty box.
Nashville took a timeout and had a final flurry in front of Osgood, who finished with 25 saves, including a stop on Ryan Suter that hit Niklas Lidstrom’s glove late. Nothing got across the line.
“Osgood was real good,” Trotz said.
The Predators got on the board first with a second left in a power play. Legwand scored from the right circle at 9:10 of the first period. But Detroit tied it at 14:08 when Franzen took a pass from Datsyuk after just crossing the blue-line, skated up the slot and beat Vokoun’s glove hand.
Detroit, which outshoots just about everyone, took control in the second and kept the puck in front of Vokoun most of the period. The Red Wings outshot Nashville 30-25.
Datsyuk finally put Detroit ahead with a power-play goal at 7:30, his 26th. With a crowd at the crease and the puck near the right post near the line, Datsyuk swept it past Vokoun’s blocker as he sprawled on his belly.
Notes: Detroit improved to 41-10-9 when outshooting an opponent and 31-1-2 when leading after two periods. … Datsyuk now has 11 assists against the Predators this season, the most by any player in one season against Nashville. He also has scored five goals in the past six games. … J.P. Dumont had an assist, giving him 19 points in 19 games for Nashville.