VANCOUVER – A 22-year-old looking to find his way in the NHL helped drag the Detroit Red Wings out of an ugly tailspin.
Tomas Tatar scored his first goal of the season in just his fifth game late in the second period Wednesday as the Red Wings snapped a four-game slide with a 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
After Daniel Alfredsson tied the score 1-1 midway through the second, Tatar gave Detroit its first lead of the night with 62 seconds left in the period.
With the Canucks collapsing in their own zone, Tartar fired a weak shot from just inside the blue-line that found its way through Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
“I just tried to shoot it on net and the puck somehow ended up in,” said Tatar, who has been in and out of the Detroit lineup all season. “This is a big relief.”
Vancouver’s best player on the night, Luongo was screened on the play by Canucks defenceman Christopher Tanev.
“I didn’t see it until the last second, but I have to find a way to find those,” said Luongo, who finished with 25 saves. “It’s a pretty (lousy) way to lose a game on a goal like that.
“At the end of the day I have to try and find that puck.”
The Red Wings (7-4-2) came in wanting to tighten up defensively after a couple of poor outings and did just that as Jimmy Howard was forced into just 19 saves.
“It’s one of those games where it’s little bit more difficult to keep your focus when you’re not seeing as much action,” he said. “I’ve got to give the guys a lot of credit tonight. They did a great job in front of me.”
Daniel Sedin scored for Vancouver (9-5-1), which finished with a season-low 20 shots and saw its four-game winning streak come to an end. Henrik Sedin set up Vancouver’s first goal to extend his point streak to 10 games (three goals, nine assists).
“We didn’t generate enough offence,” said Canucks head coach John Tortorella. “We certainly didn’t sustain a forecheck. We just looked lethargic. For some reason we lacked some energy tonight.”
Trailing 1-0 after the first period in a game that was short on excitement, Alfredsson tied the score at 11:37 of the second with his third goal of the season. The former Ottawa Senators captain picked up a loose puck in the slot and fired a shot off the post that rebounded in off Luongo’s leg.
That’s when Tatar, a second round pick back in 2009, stepped up with his first of the season late in the period.
“We were playing pretty good but we had nothing to show for it,” said Alfredsson. “Then we get the first one and then a flukey play where their defenceman ended up being a screen and we get lucky there.
“That’s a huge goal for us, to go into the third with the lead and I thought we handled that really well.”
The Red Wings were happy to see Tatar get rewarded.
“You never know what’s going to happen in this league when you throw pucks on net,” said Howard. “Hopefully he feels a little pressure off his back. We can see how he plays in practice.”
No longer conference rivals thanks to realignment, the Canucks and Red Wings combined for just 31 shots and few scoring chances through two periods in a defensive matchup that was played between the blue-lines most of the night.
“We believe we’ve gone through enough details that we should know how to play and we should be able to do it on a nightly basis,” said Red Wings head coach Mike Babock. “Tonight was a good step for our team. Now we’ve got to match it.”
Vancouver’s power play, which has just four goals all season and came in ranked 28th in the NHL, got an opportunity early in the third but was unable to muster any realistic scoring chances.
Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows, playing in his second game back after breaking his foot in the season opener, then fanned on a chance in the slot right in front of Howard.
Tortorella reunited Burrows with the Sedin twins to start the third period. Ryan Kesler, usually Vancouver’s second-line centre, had been playing on the top line since about the midway point of the Canucks’ recent seven-game road trip.
Luongo kept Vancouver in it with a big pad stop on Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader off a feed from Tatar on a 3-on-1 break with five minutes to go to keep his team in it.
“I thought (Luongo) played real well,” said Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. “We could have had a lot more and we had good opportunities. He was solid for them tonight.”
Kesler then just missed Howard’s far post with shot in the dying seconds.
“I hit that shot nine out of 10 times and I just missed it,” said Kesler. “It’s frustrating.”
The Sedins teamed up to energize an otherwise dull first period with the opening goal at 14:12. Daniel Sedin glided over the Red Wings’ blue-line and made a drop pass to Henrik Sedin, who cut into the slot. Daniel Sedin moved to the bottom of the faceoff circle and one-timed the return feed past a helpless Howard for his sixth of the season.
Notes: Daniel Sedin now has seven points (four goals, three assists) in his last five games. … Kesler saw his five-game goal scoring streak come to an end. He came in with five goals and three assists over that span. … The Canucks complete a three-game homestand on Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Prior to the game, Vancouver will retire Pavel Bure’s No. 10 jersey. The Russian sniper played for the Canucks from 1991 to 1998, collecting 254 goals and 224 assists in 428 games. … The Red Wings continue a four-game road trip on Friday against the Calgary Flames.