ST. PAUL, Minn. – Gustav Nyquist’s third-period goal gave the Detroit Red Wings a 3-2 victory Saturday over the Minnesota Wild, their fourth in the last five games.
Jimmy Howard made 28 saves, and Brendan Smith and David Legwand each scored on a power play for the Red Wings, who were in a 2-for-25 slump with the man advantage until getting goals on both of their opportunities against the Wild.
Mikko Koivu gave the Wild an early lead, on a power play, and Charlie Coyle tied the game on a penalty shot. But the Wild, clinging to a wild card spot in the Western Conference race, fell to 2-3-4 in nine games since the trade deadline.
Just 15 seconds into the third period, the Wild were right back in position for one of those standings points that become so critical this time of the year and cause fans – and presumably coaches and players, even though they’d never acknowledge as much – to obsess over daily.
Johan Franzen, trailing Coyle on a breakaway, stuck his stick out to trip the struggling young center. The penalty shot was awarded, not without argument from Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, and Coyle put it to use with a slick right-left move to fake out Howard and tie the game at 2. That was Coyle’s second goal in the last 24 games.
The momentum didn’t last for the Wild, though.
Nyquist, who has an NHL-leading 16 goals in his last 22 games since Jan. 20, sent a snap shot between Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter that Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper didn’t appear to see right away and let get past his glove. The Red Wings thought they had another one barely a minute later when Franzen was called for making contact with Kuemper before the puck went in.
This was a rare afternoon start, to accommodate the first Big Ten hockey championship game here in the evening. The Big Ten logo was still at mid-ice from the semifinals the day before. With plenty of their red-clad fans in the seats, the Red Wings did their best to make themselves at home.
Just as unusual was the schedule that had both teams due in Detroit for a Sunday night rematch, cramming their only two matchups this season into a 32-hour window and making this an important weekend for each club’s bid for the playoffs.
The banged-up Red Wings, missing star forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg plus now defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, moved into eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 79 points. Columbus has 78 points. Washington, on the West Coast for a game at San Jose late Saturday, entered the day with 77 points.
The Wild, who have 83 points, have been in seventh place for a while with Phoenix and Dallas chasing.