Detroit Red Wings left wing Tomas Tatar (21) celebrates his goal. UPI/Archie Carpenter | License Photo
PITTSBURGH -- The odds still seem to be against Detroit. The Red Wings are far below the wildcard cutoff in the Eastern Conference, scrambling not to finish last.
For a weekend, though, they played like a team with plenty of desperation and determination -- like a team that does not want to see its streak of 25 straight seasons in the playoffs come to an end. They scored twice early in the third period Sunday en route to a 5-2 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena, one day after they beat the NHL's best team, Washington, in a shootout.
"Two big wins. We knocked out Washington and (Pittsburgh)," said winger Thomas Vanek, who scored one of those early third-period goals. "You start chopping teams away."
Detroit (24-25-10) has one more game, at home Tuesday against the New York Islanders, before its bye week.
"We've talked about getting on little bit of a run here," Vanek said. "If we can get one more here coming into the Islanders at home, that'd be a huge win. You take that break and you try to take the best advantage of it. All in all, we continued to keep ourselves in this."
The two wins in a row follow a five-game losing streak.
The Penguins (36-14-8), who were off Saturday, ended a string of nine games in a row with at least one point. They became the last team to lose in regulation since the All-Star break.
"They're obviously really talented," defenseman Nick Jensen, who opened the scoring for the Red Wings, said of the Penguins. "Sometimes you get pinned in your zone and they'll go to work on you, and you just have to weather the storm a little bit. The biggest keys that we did were we were tight on them all night. We didn't give them much room in the neutral zone, and when they did, we were on them pretty quick. That's what limited them on chances a lot."
Red Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek made 26 saves to improve to 14-15-6.
Detroit took a 1-0 lead at 8:48 of the first. Nick Jensen, on a two-on-one with Justin Abdelkader, faked a shot coming down the right side of the Pittsburgh zone, got past defenseman Brian Dumoulin and slid the puck behind goaltender Matt Murray.
The Penguins tied with a short-handed goal at 14:09 of the first. Kris Letang got the puck in his end and opted to carry it out rather than clear it. He set up Tom Kuhnhackl, who got a partial breakaway and beat goaltender Petr Mrazek past his glove.
Steve Ott restored the Red Wings' lead, 2-1, at 16:29 of the first with a backhander from close range.
"It's an easy game when you play with the lead, there's no question about it," Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said.
That hasn't been the case for all of Pittsburgh's opponents. It has won an NHL-leading seven times when trailing after two periods, but the Red Wings avoided handing the Penguins No. 8.
Detroit took advantage of a turnover by Jake Guentzel in the Penguins' end to increase its lead to 3-1 just 27 seconds into the third. Tomas Tatar finished a give-and-go with a one-timer.
Vanek followed at 2:16 when he got a loose puck in the neutral zone, moved in and scored from the slot to make it 4-1.
"We just need to come out with a little more jump in the third," said Murray, who made 19 saves as his streak of games with no regulation losses ended at six. He's now 4-1-2 in his past seven starts.
"You get scored on twice early in the third like that, it's not going to be easy to come back from, especially when we're already down," he said. "Both of those saves, I need to make those saves. We definitely can't afford to get scored on early in the third like that."
Just seven seconds later, Pittsburgh closed to within 4-2 on Sidney Crosby's league-leading 32nd goal, a shot from the left dot that went under Mrazek's pads.
Luke Glendening added an empty-net goal with 51.3 seconds remaining for the final score.
The Penguins were 0-for-4 on the power play, including two chances in the third.
"We've just got to execute," Crosby said. "It comes down to that. We didn't do a good job of executing five on five and on our power play. They were a little more desperate with the way they played."
NOTES: Pittsburgh LW Conor Sheary (upper body) has begun skating, coach Mike Sullivan said. ... The Penguins honored C Sidney Crosby before the game for eclipsing 1,000 points last week. He received a plaque from team owner and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux. Earlier, he received a gold-plated stick from his teammates. ... D Cameron Gaunce replaced D Steve Oleksy in the Pittsburgh lineup. The Penguins also scratched RW Carter Rowney. ... The Penguins on Saturday returned F Josh Archibald to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. ... Detroit D Mike Green missed a second game in a row because of illness. The Red Wings also scratched C Gustav Nyquist and RW Tomas Jurco. ... Detroit hosts the New York Islanders Tuesday before beginning its bye week.