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Detroit Red Wings

Red Wings Take Big Step Toward Playoffs With Win Over Sabres



Alex Lyon, detroit red wings

DETROIT — When a team like the Detroit Red Wings is trying to make the playoffs for the first time in eight years, earning those final wins can feel as difficult as scaling the last 3,000 feet of Mount Everest.

That’s the zone where most problems occur. Every step seems harder than the last one.

“Winning is hard and we’re finding out how hard it is, especially real hockey,” Detroit coach Derek Lalonde said. “It’s the National Hockey League, every night’s tough. But this is next level type stuff. Tonight our guys stepped up.”

Lalonde’s words came after Detroit got first period goals from Lucas Raymond, Patrick Kane and Dylan Larkin and rode that strong start to a 3-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres. That put Detroit on the right side of the Eastern Conference playoff line, although the Red Wings will be below it if Washington Capitals beat the Ottawa Senators tonight.

To earn that win, the Red Wings needed 37 saves from goalie Alex Lyon, 27 blocked shots and two fights (by Joe Veleno and Jeff Petry). Moritz Seider had 10 blocked shots.  The Red Wings had 28 hits and the Sabres boasted 27. This felt like a 1990s playoff game.

“I thought we did a good job of locking it down,” Lyon said. “I think they had some opportunities, but I think for the most part we did a good job of getting it deep and making them go 200 feet. And that’s what you’ve got to do when you have a lead, and play from the inside out and protect the house. I thought for the most part we were diligent with that.”

Stronger Defensively

On Friday, the Red Wings gave up a late power play to the Rangers and lost. That didn’t happen against the Sabres.

“There’s some mental fortitude from the group,”  Lalonde said. “But finding ways to close out games is difficult, especially against a team like that. Again, I think Alex was being a little humble there. I thought he was our best player in the third. That team had some looks, some really good looks that he kept out.”

Lyon had 17 saves in the third period when the Sabres dialed up the pressure. The loss is a big blow to their playoff hopes. The Sabres, who haven’t been in the playoffs for 12 years, are now five points behind Detroit.

It’s often said in the hockey world, that “your best players have to be your best players” to win big games in this sport. It is noteworthy that Detroit’s strong start came on goals by the team’s three most important offensive players. All three goals included an overflowing amount of determination. Raymond made a nifty move to gain some space. Kane burst through two defenders. And Larkin buried a shot top shelf.

Good Start is Critical

“We’ve struggled with our starts a couple of weeks ago,” Raymond said. We’ve kind of cleaned that up. It’s always a benefit when you can come out like that. I think the first period was good, especially the first 10, and then we kind of dropped off a little. But a strong performance and like I said, nice to get out of here with a win.”

The prevailing wisdom is the Red Wings need to run the table this week with another win against Washington on Tuesday followed by a win against Pittsburgh on Thursday. That would probably put them in control of a wildcard spot.

“I think it’s imperative that we take it a day at a time,” Lyon said. “And I think that . . . I honestly didn’t know that we had the Capitals and Penguins coming up. I knew that we had important games. Living in the moment and staying day by day is absolutely crucial at this time of year, and remaining calm in critical situations. Talk about that all the time, but that’s what the best players do. We have teams that we can maybe make up ground, but the reality is if we get the job done here then we’re gonna have more difficult games after that. Your reward is just to play more hockey and more difficult games. You really can’t think too far into the future. You can’t worry about the past. We have to enjoy this, because that’s an important part of the process, for a little bit here. And then tomorrow we have to try and get better and keep moving forward.”