The Minnesota Wild, long held as masters of slow, grinding, boring hockey games, have seen 8 of their last 10 contests turn into one-goal hockey games. The Detroit Red Wings, with a reputation of dynamic offense, have struggled of late to put pucks in the net, only scoring four times in their last five games, including a shutout loss at the hands of the very same Minnesota team they would welcome into Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday night.
Despite being mired in a losing streak since facing the Washington Capitals a week ago in what had been a battle of the last two unbeaten teams in the NHL, the Wings came out with determination to start the game, hemming the Wild deep within their zone from the opening faceoff.
Controlling the puck effortlessly against a Wild team that seemed almost shell-shocked, it would be Henrik Zetterberg who set up the opening goal, taking the puck from a pass down low from Pavel Datsyuk and skating up above the right faceoff dot before unloading a shot that Detroit Captain Nicklas Lidstrom would redirect past Wild netminder Josh Harding.
Harding was in goal for his third start of the season following the shutout performance on Saturday.
The Wings would not get a chance to increase the pressure after the goal, however, as Drew Miller was sent to the box on an interference call a short time later. Though the Wild did not convert, they clearly drew increased confidence after getting some good looks at Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard.
That penalty would prove to start a parade of Detroit players to the box for the rest of the evening, and the Wild power play clearly felt the lack of Brent Burns to open up scoring opportunities. Howard made some exceptional saves in close on Devin Setoguchi, Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard at different times.
Despite both teams getting a few days of rest between matchups, much of the game seemed sluggish and uncharacteristically tentative on the part of the Wings, who played down to an unusually low tempo, failing to exploit opportunities while handing the Wild chances to tie the game, particularly on calls involving Harding.
With a 1-0 lead late, the Red Wings appeared ready to collect their second shutout of the season. But the Wild would pull Harding for the extra attacker and swarm the Detroit net, pushing the Wings back around Howard and preventing them from exploiting the open cage.
With just over a minute to go, Devin Setoguchi would fight the puck free along the boards and pass up to Justin Falk at the blue line. Falk fired into traffic, and it would be Mikko Koivu who redirected it, bouncing it down into the crease too quickly for Howard to stop it with exactly one minute left in regulation.
As the Wings slammed sticks and banged their gloves into the bench in frustration, Mike Yeo and his team celebrated, then held the Wings back, forcing overtime.
In the OT session, the Wings would launch a determined attack, forcing Harding to make several saves down against the side of his net. But the game would turn on another Detroit penalty, this time seeing Johan Franzen headed to the box for goaltender interference after he battled down low against Marco Scandella, disengaged, and literally rolled over the Minnesota netminder's back.
15 seconds into the penalty, Koivu would take a hard shot that would be blocked by Niklas Kronwall, and as he chased his own rebound Koivu would deliver a nasty hit to the pursuing defenseman, shrugging back hard with his shoulder and clipping Kronwall in the jaw. He then took advantage of the suddenly open ice to turn, skate up into the slot, fire a shot between the defenders, and generate a nice rebound off Howard's leg pads.
Devin Setoguchi, waiting paitiently in front of Howard, was able to pop that bounce up and into the net to hand Detroit their fifth-straight loss, while the Wild, unexpectedly, gain ground on both the Colorado Avalanche and the Northwest Division-leading Oilers.
For more from the Detroit perspective, check in with SB Nation Detroit and Wings blog Winging It In Motown. For more from the Minnesota perspective, check in with SB Nation Minnesota and Wild blog Hockey Wilderness.