NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Detroit Red Wings have given themselves a little breathing room, at least for the moment.
Henrik Zetterberg had a goal and an assist, and the Red Wings beat the Nashville Predators 3-0 Sunday night for a crucial two points in their chase to extend their streak of playoff berths.
The Red Wings got their first win in four games, the last two shootout losses, and moved into sole possession of eighth in the West, two points ahead of Dallas and Columbus. Johan Franzen also scored a goal, Justin Abdelkader added a late empty-netter and Pavel Datsyuk had two assists. Jimmy Howard made 22 saves for his third shutout this season.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said they got two big points that tied the Red Wings with seventh-place Minnesota with 47 points.
“There’s a lot of us in that mud puddle trying to find a way to swim,” Babcock said of tight pack in the standings.
Pekka Rinne made 29 saves for Nashville, which lost its sixth straight.
Nashville hoped to spoil the Red Wings’ playoff chase in their final game in Music City as Central Division rivals before realignment. Their final game is April 25 in Detroit in a rivalry where Nashville measured itself against the Original Six team from its inception before beating the Red Wings in the playoffs last year.
“Howard, again, came up huge,” Detroit defenceman Niklas Kronwall said.
The Red Wings hadn’t won since April 5. They began the day tied with Dallas and Columbus with 45 points, with the pressure mounting to uphold a tradition featuring 21 consecutive playoff appearances. Howard, who had his 14th career shutout, certainly helped as he stopped 13 shots in the first period before Detroit started firing pucks at Rinne over the final 40 minutes.
“We control our own destiny,” Howard said. “It’s upon us and the dressing room to get the job done. I think a lot of people would be happy to see us miss the playoffs. We have to go out there and play with the same sense of urgency when we get out to Calgary.”
Nashville was seven points behind that trio of teams fighting for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. With five games left after playing Detroit, that hope is slim for a franchise that has turned to a forced youth movement because of injuries.
Predators coach Barry Trotz said the players are getting real valuable experience and showing team officials what they can and can’t do.
“It’s not probably a great answer for the fans from that standpoint,” Trotz said. “But it’s reality. We can’t do anything about all the veterans and all our top players, especially up front, that are hurt. We don’t have any excuses for it. We just got to try to play through it and get a win. We have to spoils somebody’s party here.”
The Predators started Filip Forsberg, the 18-year-old forward they got from Washington at the trade deadline in exchange for veteran Martin Erat. He arrived Saturday from Sweden and was the sixth rookie in the lineup Sunday night for a team with three forwards already heading toward season-ending surgeries with Patric Hornqvist, Brandon Yip and Mike Fisher also scratched for injuries.
He skated on a line with David Legwand and Taylor Beck, filling in for Hornqvist, and got to play against Zetterberg.
“He is one of the best Swedish players ever in the NHL,” Forsberg said.
Forsberg, drafted at No. 11 overall in 2012 by the Capitals, showed off some of his offensive instincts with his first NHL shot. He broke out on a 1-on-3 and had a wrister from the slot that Howard stopped at 7:54 of the first. Forsberg also was on the ice when Nashville got its first power play of the night at 10:33 of the first when Franzen went to the box for interference.
The rookie can play in five games without burning a contract year. Trotz said he’ll leave that decision to general manager David Poile, though injuries may force that decision too.
Rinne, the two-time Vezina Trophy finalist, used his back to block a shot onto the top of the net at 2:13 of the second and had fans chanting “Pekka, Pekka” after a flurry of saves 5:00 into the period.
Rookie Danny DeKeyser, who chose Detroit over teams including Nashville, took a shot that hit off the back boards and around to Zetterberg for the easy tap-in goal at 6:23 for a 1-0 lead. That was Zetterberg’s first goal in 11 games.
“Peks is a world class goaltender and you know when he gets the lead he seems even harder,” Howard said. “It was imperative, and I think a weight lifted off our shoulders when we got the first one.”
Nashville had a chance to tie in the third when Bobby Butler got a penalty shot attempt after being hooked by Jakub Kindl on a breakaway attempt at 6:24. But Butler lost the puck before attempting a shot in front of Howard, summing up the Predators’ woes in this skid.
Franzen scored on a backhander over Rinne’s glove at 17:01 in the third to seal the victory. Nashville took its timeout with 1:57 left and pulled Rinne. Abdelkader had an easy goal at 18:41.
NOTES: Detroit’s last road shutout was Oct. 8, 2011, in a 3-0 win at Colorado with Ty Conklin in net. … DeKeyser got his first NHL point in his fifth career game. … Franzen’s goal was his 300th career point. … Forsberg became the third-youngest player to play for the Predators at 18 years, 244 days. Only Scott Hartnell (18, 171 days) and Legwand (18, 243 days) were younger. … Nashville notched its 19th sellout this season in its 22nd home game. … Nashville D Kevin Klein picked up only his second penalty this season, for slashing, in the second period.