DETROIT — The Detroit Red Wings’ fan base has mostly quit on this season, but the Detroit players haven’t given up on themselves.
Defenseman Jake Walman showed genuine excitement and joy after scoring with 3.2 seconds left in regulation to give the Red Wings a 3-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes, a team that owns the NHL’s second-best record. Walman and his teammates celebrated like it was an important win.
Maybe it was to them. There’s pride in this group.
“I was pounding my chest,” Walman said. “The guys gave me some (grief) for it but I was pounding the Detroit logo there. That’s what it was. ”
The playoffs are a mathematical improbability, but the Red Wings have won two in a row. Plus, the win against Carolina gives them 75 points, one more than they totaled last season.
“It’s not really spoiling for us,” Walman explained. “I think that these games are meaningful for us with the young team that we’ve got. It’s a lot of experience playing against teams that are battling for playoff spots. This is our playoffs, so every game’s important. I think it will help us next year and in the long run.”
Walman took a peek at the clock as he jumped off the bench to join the action. “Knew there was under 10 seconds left,” Walman recalled. “Just go for offense at that point.”
His shot from the point looked like it was laser-guided as it flew into the empty side of the net.
“Just a good play by Copper, ” Walman said. “It was like a go for broke kind of play. He knew there was not much time left, so he made a really good pass. Good screen on it.”
He is a fitting hero because this season he proved that he deserved to be part of general manager Steve Yzerman’s rebuild. He solidified his place as a top four defenseman. This was his ninth goal. He was given his opportunity because he can skate and boasts a big shot, but he expanded his role by improving defensively and being fully engaged at all times. He brings passion to his playing time.
Walman is impressed by the Carolina squad, mostly because the roster is full of players who play the game the right way. They don’t give teams room to operate.
“All the young guys on our team, we’re a growing team, we’re building and hopefully we can build into something like that,” Walman said.
The Walman goal was important because Detroit goalie Alex Nedeljkovic was in top form. He has made three consecutive starts and has looked confident. He made 31 saves against the Hurricanes.
But coach Derek Lalonde likely resist any temptation to play him against Friday in Winnipeg.
“We’ll have to evaluate that,” Lalonde said, before adding. “I don’t think it makes sense, this is a ridiculous back-to-back, two-hour flight, customs. I think it would be unfair to Ned. It was a volume game. They funnel everything to the net. I guarantee their shot attempts were in the 80s and 90s. If they have a view to the net, the puck’s going to it and that’s hard on a goalie. So we’ll talk as a staff here but I don’t think I’m putting Ned back in tomorrow.”