DETROIT – Henrik Zetterberg was starting to think he'd forgotten how to score.
Coming into a big showdown against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night, Zetterberg hadn’t scored in nine games and had only potted two goals in the previous 26 contests.
After scoring twice, including his 20th and the eventual game-winner midway through the third period, Zetterberg led the Red Wings to a 3-2 win at Joe Louis Arena – and started believing in his abilities once again.
The Swedish star forward even carried his scoring touch into the post-game locker room, where he peeled off some red tape while seated, balled it up and lofted it about 20 feet across the room – directly into a small garbage can near Todd Bertuzzi's locker stall.
"See?" Zetterberg said, smiling. "Look at that!"
It wasn't much earlier in the day that his smile was missing while he quietly wondered if maybe his hockey sticks were cursed or he'd gotten a bad batch.
"Every time you're in a slump like that, you start to doubt yourself, so it's nice to see I can still score some goals," Zetterberg said. "It's been a while and you start to think too much and make bad decisions out there, so it was nice to get it out of the way."
It was also nice for a Swede to have such a run of good fortune the night before St. Patrick's Day. Aside from his scoring touch returning and the long "basket" in the locker room, Zetterberg also "lucked out" just moments before backhanding the eventual game-winner past Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth on a power play with 10:07 left to play in the game.
At the start of the power play, it looked like Zetterberg had a puck swatted directly into his face in the low slot area – which dropped him to the ice almost instantly. It was actually the blade of a stick that hit his visor instead of his chops, which he was quite thankful for after the game.
"It was the follow through that kind of hit me in the (visor)," he said. "I think it scared me more than it hurt."
On the flip side of all this good fortune for Zetterberg and the Red Wings were the Capitals (41-22-10), whose luck ran out and halted an impressive nine-game win streak.
Despite getting tying the game twice after falling behind on goals by John Carlson in the first and star Alex Ovechkin in the second, the Caps were unable to get a third game-tying marker in the last half of the third period – despite turning up the heat on Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard.
Alexander Semin even rung a slap shot from 55 feet away off the crossbar with just 14 seconds left to play after a nice feed from Ovechkin.
"I think if he were sharper tonight he would have scored that goal," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It was unlucky. It shouldn't have gone in anyway, but you hit the crossbar in the last (few) seconds … those things happen. We have been getting the breaks in this situation in the last couple weeks. Tonight we didn't get a lot of the breaks and they played well enough to win."
Indeed the Red Wings did.
Valtteri Filppula scored Detroit's other goal, while defenseman Brian Rafalski tallied three assists in his first game back from a bout with back spasms that kept him out for eight games.
Detroit was also strong in the faceoff circle – winning 63 percent of the draws – and outshot the Caps 35-28 overall. The Wings finished 1 for 2 on the power play and killed off all four man-advantage situations for Washington.
Howard, meanwhile, played strong in goal – making 26 saves and thanking his lucky crossbar friend on Semin's blast at the end.
"It was like a Tim Wakefield knuckleball,” Howard said, referring to the Boston Red Sox starting pitcher. "It just sort of dropped there at the end. Did it hit the top part of the crossbar? After it went by me, all I heard was thump, and thank you to the crossbar."
He didn't get quite as lucky on Ovechkin's rocket wrist shot from the slot that tied it 2-2 5:53 into the second period. Ovechkin zipped the puck through defenseman Brad Stuart's legs and over Howard's blocker-side shoulder into the net, leaving Howard gawking.
"He's still got a hell of a shot,” Howard said. “He demonstrated that in the second period."
Still, Ovechkin didn't dominate the game the way he often does by outskating and overpowering overwhelmed opponents. Stuart and Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom tried to keep the Russian superstar under wraps all game and did a pretty solid job overall – allowing just the one goal despite No.8 firing off seven shots on goal.
Detroit's own Russian superstar, center Pavel Datsyuk, also had a somewhat subdued game by his standards – even though it was his pass that set Zetterberg up for the game-deciding goal.
Yet again, luck played a little role in the goal – as the puck deflected off Neuvirth's mask and glove before going over his shoulder into the net.
"It was a great pass by Pav, I had a lot of speed and I think I was cheating a little bit for a pass,” Zetterberg said. “It was a little luck to hit the mask and get it in."
Lucky or not, Detroit will happily take a mini two-game win streak on home ice and a three-game win streak overall into to Columbus and then Nashville before returning to the Motor City to play the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.
Sidney Crosby will probably not play in that game as he recovers from concussion symptoms – so a good number of Wings fans booed Ovechkin.
"I didn't hear the boos," said Ovechkin, whose goal gave him 19 points (8 goals) in the past 15 games. "This is the kind of building where you only play once a year, so kids are excited and people were excited to see me. I thought it was kind of cool."
So did one happy Swede, who picked a good time to upstage a pair of Russian stars on a big stage.
"It was a little easier to get fired up for this game," Zetterberg said. "It's fun to play with those guys and it's fun for the fans to see them, too. It makes it easier when you win the game, though."