DETROIT (AP) — Henrik Zetterberg stepped onto the ice with a chance to put the Detroit Red Wings ahead in an extended shootout, and the Joe Louis Arena crowd cheered.
Red-and-white clad fans roared when Zetterberg scored on Detroit’s fifth shootout attempt and got even louder seconds later as Petr Mrazek stopped Alex Ovechkin, giving the Red Wings a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Saturday.
“That was a special moment,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.
And it might be one of the last ones at an aging arena that will be replaced by a new one next season. Detroit avoided a season-high sixth straight loss, but the last-place team in the Eastern Conference likely won’t make the playoffs for the first time since 1990.
“We know we’re in a tough spot and it’s going to be really hard, but we have to believe,” said Tomas Tatar, who scored in the second period to give Detroit a 2-0 lead.
The Capitals, meanwhile, are leading the Eastern Conference. They are 19-2-2 since Dec. 31, including a six-game winning streak that ended in Detroit.
Fortunately for them, playoff games are not decided by shootouts and they won’t have to come off another bye during the regular season.
Washington is 1-5 in games extended past overtime and it followed a league-wide trend for teams coming off a bye. Entering the weekend, teams were 3-9-2 in their first game after a five-day break.
“It was tough to get my mind back up to game speed after just one practice,” Capitals center Lars Eller said. “I thought we were slow all game.”
Detroit (23-25-10) got off to a nice start on goals by Fran Nielsen in the first period —scoring on a power play for the NHL’s worst team with an extra skater — and Tatar in the second. Tatar took advantage of a giveaway and finished off a slick play set up by cross-ice passes from Zetterberg and Anthony Mantha.
The high-scoring Capitals (39-11-7) responded. Zach Sanford posted his second of the season late in the second period and Daniel Winnik tied it with 4:48 left in the third.
“In the first period, we were trying to catch the train a little bit,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. “Coming off the break, you can try all you want, but you got to play through it. In the second period, we played with a little more pace and execution started to improve. Finally, we broke through.”
Mrazek made 34 saves, including two on a power play with 6-plus minutes left in regulation and one early in overtime.
Washington’s Braden Holtby stopped 21 shots. He had won his last 14 decisions, tied for the third-longest winning streak by a goaltender in a season.
As poorly as the Red Wings have played this season, they are a perfect 7-0 when games are decided in a shootout.
Thomas Vanek opened the shootout with a goal, making him 5 for 5 in the tiebreaker in Detroit. T.J. Oshie followed and missed the net. With a chance to put the Red Wings up two, Nielsen failed to get the puck past Holtby. Evgeny Kuznetsov took advantage of the opportunity, scoring on Mrazek to make it 1-all in the shootout.
Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou and Tatar were stopped by Holtby, giving Brett Connolly a chance to end the game. But he was stopped by Mrazek in his first shootout attempt of the season and Ovechkin was denied, dropping the superstar to 0 for 3 in shootouts this season.
Zetterberg usually stays on the bench during shootouts, but got a chance because the first four shooters for both teams didn’t decide the game.
“It’s always fun to get a chance in the shootout,” he said. “It was nice to see it went in.”
NOTES: Detroit D Mike Green, a former Capital, was scratched with an illness. … Washington, which hadn’t played since Feb. 11, was without F Andre Burakovsky for a second straight game because of a hand injury. … Detroit’s bye is coming up, giving it a break between games on Feb. 21 and 28.
Capitals: Visit the New York Rangers on Sunday in the second of a three-game road trip.
Red Wings: Visit Pittsburgh on Sunday.
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