The Wings all but locked up the division last night, beating the Preds 4-2 in Nashville. They now have 107 points and a 15 point lead on the Predators for the Central Division lead with 10 games left (and one game in hand). They're also the first team to 50 wins, a marker they have only reached two other times in their history ('95-'96: 62W, '01-'02: 51W). The Wings now lead the season series with the Preds 4-3 and remain undefeated in Nashville with one more game to be played there.
Manny Legace did get the start for the Wings and looked strong. He was worked more than in his previous two games and didn't seem to have much trouble with it.
Babcock started the Swedes, Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Mikael Samuelsson, Andreas Lilja and Nick Lidstrom. The first minute wasn't bad and first impressions were that the Wings looked pretty good. Robert Lang, who has been coming to play increasingly often lately, started the game out well. He appears to be getting ready for the playoffs, which is encouraging.
Early in the game, all four lines were generating pressure, and getting chances, as the Wings came on strong. The Preds derailed that a bit by killing off their first penalty, mostly due to the Wings apparently suddenly forgetting how to conduct a power play. In a bit of a momentum swing, Nashville came out of it ahead, with the ice tilted in their direction.
They had a power play of their own beginning at 5:47 and were pretty dangerous on it. Fortunatley, the Wings' PKers, particularly Manny Legace, were ready and it was killed off. Not long after the teams were back to even strength, Brendan Shanahan went off for hooking and the Wings were forced to kill off another penalty, which they did pretty well.
While still on the power play, the Preds ended up getting a penalty of their own and we got some 4-on-4 hockey. The subsequent Red Wing power play wasn't bad but Tomas Holmstrom cut it short when he was called for goaltender interference. Five seconds of 4-on-4 followed and then the Preds were back on the power play.
Mike Sillinger made it 1-0 Predators at 13:29. Nashville cycled the puck in the Detroit zone and it ended up on Steve Sullivan's stick. He sent it over to Sillinger, who blasted a one-timer from the left face-off circle. A good shot.
Forty seconds later, the Wings responded. Pavel Datsyuk and Kris Draper took the puck in on a 2-on-1, with Pavel carrying and Draper headed to the net. Datsyuk took a shot that was stopped by Tomas Vokoun and though he didn't give up much of a rebound, it was enough. Kris Draper was johnny-on-the-spot and knocked it in off the backhand just after the initial save. 1-1 game. Shanahan got the other assist.
The Preds wasted hardly any time re-taking the lead, scoring again at 14:36, just 25 seconds after the Detroit goal. The goal game immediatley after a commercial break and the faceoff, which made it a bit surprising. Brendan Witt got the puck after the faceoff and let loose a shot from the point through, somehow threading it through the crowd of nine players in front of him. Legace, who was completely screened appeared to have hardly seen it and it beat him glove side. The goal was later given to Scott Hartnell (the punk!), who had some kind of physical contact with it before it went in, apparently. 2-1 Predators.
At 15:30, Jordin Tootoo kneed Manny Legace's head after taking the puck along the goalline from the right boards on an individual effort. The ref saw fit to called him for goaltending interference but he shouldn't have bothered. At first, the resulting Detroit "power play" seemed more like the Preds had the man-advantage. The Wings finally got some pressure going but couldn't score.
The pace of the game had quickened pretty dramatically and the crowd was loud (and somewhat classless in their choice of cheers, though I couldn't quite hear what they were chanting), making for some nice atmosphere.
At 18:31, Tomas Vokoun made a nice stop on a good scoring chance involving Pavel Datsyuk. Just after that, Brendan Shanahan and Scott Hartnell (the punk!) had a little altercation that ended with taking the younger player down after a few punches. That was satisfying.
Seven seconds later, Sullivan went off for slashing and the Wings went back on the power play. This time, they scored. Holmstrom tied it up at 19:25 when he tipped in Lidstrom's pass/shot right in front of Vokoun.
Manny Legace was forced to come up big early in the second period when Paul Kariya and Danny Markov got off a couple dangerous shots in the first two minutes.
Scott Walker ran Dan Cleary into the boards at 2:58, knocking the wind out of him. He turned out to be okay though and the Wings got a power play, which they squandered. The game had slowed down a bit and it wasn't quite as exciting.
The Preds had a really good scoring opportunity nearing the halfway mark of the period but Mathieu Schneider broke it up and was lucky he wasn't called for holding on the play. The Predators player had a step on him but Schneider caught up just in time and apparently got the puck first because the ref didn't call anything. It could have been a penalty shot.
The Wings got a 3-on-1 half way through the period but Hank's pass to Samuelsson was intercepted by Markov and it amounted to nothing. The pace had quickened, though.
Andreas Lilja got his penalty at 11:41 right after Manny Legace made a big stop. The Wings killed it off pretty well. Lilja somehow got a breakway after leaving the box but he was stoned by Vokoun despite making some passable moves. Better luck next time, Andreas. Lord knows you'll be in the box often enough that you're bound to be sprung on another post-penalty breakway!
Something about Lilja's breakaway must have gotten the Wings fired up. They started controlling the play and looking dangerous. Then, Pavel Datsyuk fell on Tootoo and they were back on the PK.
Kirk Maltby had a glorious shorthanded chance, with Vokoun all to himself, and nearly scored. He sent it off the side of the net after a couple of dekes, though.
At 19:08, the Preds got caught with too many men on the ice. The Wings couldn't do much before the period ended or when the third started but they capitalized soon after the penalty expired.
Brendan Shanahan completed his Gordie Howe hat trick (a goal, an assist and a fight) at 1:42 after receiving a beautiful no-look pass from Steve Yzerman. Shanny found himself all alone out front and he deked Vokoun forehand to backhand, scoring to the goalie's right to make it 3-2.
Two minutes later, the Preds got some revenge when the Wings were called for too many men as well. Draper and Maltby had a solid shorthanded scoring opportunity but Vokoun was equal to the task and made the necessary stop.
The Preds were dangerous as the period wore on and Manny was forced to stay sharp. The pace was good, with the teams skating end to end exchanging shots and the goalies playing well.
Lilja went back to the box at 9:43 but the Preds couldn't do much on the power play and it was killed off. The game began to become chippy after that as the Wings dug in and the Preds attempted to tie it.
Jason Williams put it away at 15:54 after taking another great pass from The Captain. He one-timed it past Vokoun to make it 4-2.
Nashville still pulled their goalie and called a timeout in the final minute in an effort at a successful final push but it didn't work out. The Wings got their 50th win and the Preds got nothing.
Next up, we have the Hawks tonight at 7:00 ET. They have won just twice since last playing the Wings on the 12th (2-3-2) and are coming off one of those wins, a 3-2 overtime decision against the Blues Wednesday night. It'll be the 7th of 8 divisional games between these two teams.
Abel to Yzerman game report
, A2Y discusses a dilema Babcock faces here