Goalie Jimmy Howard made 20 saves as the Red Wings beat Nashville, picking up two crucial points in tight a Western Conference race.
DETROIT — First, the octopus was flung to the ice, a springtime tradition that’s ubiquitous to Detroit and hockey.
Then trouble began to brew, in the form of an opportunistic Western Conference team that hoped to spoil the Red Wings’ playoff hopes.
Then Johan Franzen and Patrick Eaves scored a pair of second-period goals in a stretch of less than three minutes to help Detroit to a 5-2 win over Nashville.
Thursday at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings didn’t just keep their playoff contention hopes alive at the end of the regular season. With the win over the Predators, the Red Wings slid into seventh place by virtue of earning two points and Minnesota having the night off.
What’s fueled Detroit’s push to the playoffs, Franzen explained, is a shift in strategy.
“We’re keeping it simple,” said Franzen, who finished with a goal and an assist. “We get pucks to the net, and we get the traffic. We hadn’t been doing that at the beginning of the year. We were trying to make the fancy plays from the outside and hope the net’s in the way. It doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to play like this, and that’s when it starts going.”
After a sloppy first period in which the Red Wings took three penalties, they rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the first four minutes of the second to take their first lead of the game, then limited the Predators to seven shots in the third.
“No one was happy with the first period,” Franzen said. “We spent way too much time in the penalty box. We came out strong, got a good start, and kept rolling.”
Now, the Red Wings with 54 points could enter Saturday’s season finale at Dallas in seventh in the conference, before the conclusion of Thursday’s game between Dallas and Columbus in Texas. Minnesota hosts Edmonton today.
The top eight teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences qualify for the playoffs, which begin April 30. The Western Conference’s No. 8 seed will face Chicago, the President’s Trophy winner as the team that finishes with the most points in the regular season. The No. 7 seed will face Anaheim.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz appreciates Detroit’s pursuit of its 22nd consecutive playoff berth.
“Making the playoffs is a challenge now, in this day and age,” Trotz said. “It’s something to be proud of, and well-deserved.
“Everyone in that room is proud and they know about the streak. As Babs [Red Wings coach Mike Babcock] said, ‘No one wants to be the guys on their watch to not make the playoffs.’ So they’re playing very desperate, they’re playing well, and they’ve got a chance to control their own destiny right now.”
It didn’t look that way in the first, after Mike Fisher gave the Predators a 1-0 lead at 1:46.
Valtteri Filppula tied the game five minutes later after Franzen came out of the corner and fed the puck in front of the net to Filppula, who beat Nashville goalie Chris Mason (33 saves) to tie the game.
But the Red Wings took the second of three penalties in the game’s first 14 minutes when Justin Abdelkader was called for crosschecking at 11:14, and Craig Smith broke a 1-1 tie 76 seconds later when he picked up his own rebound in and beat Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (20 saves).
Then, the urgency kicked in for the Red Wings, as Franzen tied the game at 1:01 of the second, and Eaves scored 2:41 later.
“They scored at the end of the power play,” Trotz said, referencing Franzen’s goal and the end of a slashing penalty against Predators left wing Sergei Kostitsyn, which bridged the first and second periods. “They executed. We killed the power play off but our guy just came out of the box and couldn’t help out down low.”
Pavel Datsyuk gave Detroit a 4-2 lead with 46.5 seconds left in the second, and Abdelkader scored in the third for the Red Wings, who play Saturday at Dallas.
And, in all likelihood, prepare for the playoffs.
“We’ve got to continue what we’ve been doing,” Franzen said. “We can’t try to play a different way. We just have to keep this going and take it to the playoffs.”
THE MULE’S KICKING: Franzen has scored at least a point in seven of Detroit’s last eight games. Franzen was in the lineup Thursday after sitting out the last few minutes of Wednesday’s 3-1 win over Los Angeles. Franzen told reporters Thursday morning that the decision to stay off the ice was to get rest.
THEY’RE RELATED: Joonas Rask, a center for Nashville, played in his first NHL game Thursday against the Red Wings. Rask is the younger brother of Boston goalie Tuukka Rask.
THREE STRIKES: Entering Thursday’s game, Red Wings center Gustav Nyquist hadn’t been called for a penalty in 46 games this season. But against the Predators, the second-year center from Malmo, Sweden, was called for three penalties: a hooking call at 3:46 of the first and a pair of tripping calls in the second.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.