Late goals put scare into Wings

Detroit holds 3-point edge on Columbus for top wildcard spot

Detroit’s Jakub Kindl knocks Buffalo’s Luke Adam off-balance during the first period on Friday night.
Detroit’s Jakub Kindl knocks Buffalo’s Luke Adam off-balance during the first period on Friday night.

DETROIT — Mike Babcock created a term for what afflicted the Detroit Red Wings in the third period of a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

“Cute-itis,” the ninth-year Red Wings coach said, who got his 413th win for Detroit, which ties him for the all-time franchise record with Jack Adams.

While there’s no formal entry in the dictionary for it, Babcock gave the media a brief explanation the term.

“We wanted to pass it one more time and the next thing you know, it’s game on instead of just doing things simple and hard and right,” Babcock said. “The game’s so simple that way. If you do it right, you get rewarded. And if you don’t do it right, you don’t get rewarded.”

Friday at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings almost made it complicated. Against Buffalo, one of this season’s snakebitten NHL teams, Detroit’s plum three-goal lead seemed secure until Nicholas Deslauriers’ third-period goal helped the Sabres cut Detroit’s lead to 3-2.

At that point, Buffalo appeared poised to throw a wrench into Detroit’s plans to earn its 23rd straight playoff berth. They forced Detroit to protect a one-goal lead and gave the Red Wings a preview of what they could see if they make the postseason.

“To me, it feels like we’ve been playing like this for months,” said Detroit right wing Daniel Alfredsson, whose goal at 15:28 of the first period became the game-winner. “Since the Olympic break, it’s been extremely tight and I think it’s going to continue. We’re used to it, and I think that’s a good thing. We’ll be a team that’s prepared.”

The Red Wings won their fourth straight and maintained a hold on the first wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Entering today’s game at Montreal, the Red Wings have 88 points, ahead of Columbus (85), Toronto (84), and New Jersey (82). Columbus lost 4-3 Friday to Chicago, while New Jersey defeated Washington 2-1. Toronto was idle.

The NHL playoffs begin April 16; the top division winner based on points plays against the lower-ranked wildcard team, while the second division winner faces the higher-ranked wild-card team. The second-place team faces the third-place team in each of the four divisions. The top two teams of the remaining ten Eastern Conference teams and top two of the eight remaining Western Conference teams earn wildcard berths.

Darren Helm gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead at 5:47 when he picked up a rebound off the skate of Buffalo goalie Matt Hackett (28 saves) and shot high into an open net. Less than 10 minutes later, the Red Wings took a 3-0 lead by scoring two goals in less than 90 seconds: Tomas Jurco at 14:12 and Alfredsson at 15:28.

Jamie McBain’s power-play goal cut Detroit’s lead to 3-1 at 12:28 of the second and at 6:40 of the third, Deslauriers’ first NHL goal cut Detroit’s lead to one.

“I don’t think we gave them much at all after [the goal],” Alfredsson said. “It’s one of those games where we’re expected to win and this team, we haven’t had that feeling too much this year. Being up at home and knowing we can’t let this slip away. We didn’t go on the offense, but we protected our lead well. We made some great plays and didn’t really allow them until the last 20 seconds to have some pressure.”

NOTES: Pavel Datsyuk returned to the lineup after missing the last 16 games because of a knee injury. ... NHL official Don Van Massenhoven worked his final NHL game. Van Massenhoven officiated in 1,278 regular-season games and 87 playoff games. ... Hours after he was called up from the American Hockey League, Sabres forward Luke Adam took a puck to the jaw midway through the first period. He returned to the bench for the second.

Contact Rachel Lenzi at:, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.