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DETROIT — With help from Jordin Tootoo, the push to qualify for the playoffs continues for the Detroit Red Wings.
Tootoo, the Red Wings’ de facto pest, came through with arguably his biggest goal of the season, which lifted Detroit to a 3-1 win over Los Angeles.
Less than six minutes into the third period, Tootoo redirected Patrick Eaves’ shot from the right circle past Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick to break a 1-1 tie.
More importantly, Tootoo’s third goal of the season put the Red Wings back in playoff contention. With the win Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings leapfrogged Columbus and moved up in the NHL’s Western Conference standings.
Detroit is eighth with 52 points, one point behind seventh-place Minnesota and one ahead of ninth-place Columbus, which was idle.
The top eight teams in the Eastern and Western conferences qualify for the playoffs, which begin on Tuesday; the Red Wings host Nashville later today in the regular-season home finale, then close the regular season Saturday at Dallas.
In a must-win stretch for the Wings, the contributions of players such as Tootoo and Detroit’s third and fourth lines have helped galvanize a team that has taken a playoff-type approach to the final week of the season, in which the Red Wings have balanced on the bubble of postseason contention.
“They’ve been playing really well for us as of late,” Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard said. “They were probably our best lines when we were out on the West Coast and Canada, and they’ve continued to play well as a unit. We’re going to need that through the next two games. It takes a lot of pressure off our top two lines. You need secondary scoring.”
Tootoo said consistency has been the key for the Red Wings in this stretch.
“You do the right things, and the right things happen,” Tootoo said. “A little adversity doesn’t hurt. When you pull through it together, as a group of individuals, it’s always good in the long run. We have guys in the dressing room that have been through it all. You go through ups and downs in your career, and it’s about managing your game and making sure not only the younger guys but the other veteran guys are all on the same page.”
Kings coach Darryl Sutter believed his team faced its own adversity: after arriving from Minnesota at 2 a.m. Wednesday in Detroit “on a private plane,” his team was a haggard group.
“I’m sure [Detroit] had a good sleep last night,” quipped Sutter, whose team is fifth in the Western Conference. “It’s tough to win when we’re not scoring any goals right now, and I think that’s got to do with intensity.”
Howard said, “We knew they played [Tuesday] night in Minnesota, and if we just continued to skate them and work their ‘D,’ and get on top of Quick, we did that. We stayed the course.”
The Red Wings outshot the Kings 13-4 in a scoreless first period and came through with a vital penalty kill midway through the first after being called for a bench minor for too many men on the ice at 8:24.
Seconds after Trevor Lewis’ point-blank shot on Howard (23 saves) hit the post, Kyle Clifford gave the Kings a 1-0 lead 5:28 into the second when he picked up the puck next to Howard, down on the ice, and shot into an open net.
Five minutes later, Pavel Datsyuk tied the game at 1, beating defenseman Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick (33 saves) on a backhand shot, and Howard kept the game tied at with 3:34 left when he stopped Tyler Toffoli, who took a crossing pass from Mike Richards and redirected the puck into Howard.
After Tootoo’s goal — originally credited to Cory Emmerton— Johan Franzen’s power-play goal with less than seven minutes left cushioned Detroit’s lead.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.