Petr Mrazek has been carrying the Detroit Red Wings since the beginning of 2016.
Sunday afternoon, his teammates finally returned the favor.
The likely Vezina candidate matched a career worst by allowing five goals, but Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Darren Helm all scored twice in a wild 6-5 victory over the Boston Bruins.
“It looked like 1986, not 2016,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said in his post-game press conference. “Obviously right off the bat, it was crazy. I thought from a process standpoint we actually did some good stuff. It just seemed like pucks kept going in the net both ways.”
In the buildup to the opening faceoff, NBC’s announcers raved about the two outstanding goaltenders they expected to dominate the game – Mrazek and Tuukka Rask. A few moments later, the Bruins led 2-1, and the goalies had combined for one save.
Boston’s first goal came in a franchise-record eight seconds. The Red Wings won the opening faceoff, but Brendan Smith immediately iced the puck. Brett Connolly won the ensuing faceoff cleanly, and Brad Marchand flipped a wrist shot past Mrazek to stun the Joe Louis Arena.
Mrazek made a save on a Jimmy Hayes tip in the first minute, and the Red Wings tied the game on Zetterburg’s backhander at 2:44. Fourteen seconds later, though, Zach Trotman fired a slapshot from the point that Mrazek never saw, making it 2-1.
Two goals on three shots for a goal that’s saved over 95 percent of the shots he’s faced since New Year’s? Red Wings fans had to be wondering what was going on, and before the end of the period, it was 3-1.
Again, though, there was the slight suspicion that the problem wasn’t Mrazek, but the Detroit defense. Loui Ericksson simply skated between Detroit’s defensemen and tipped home David Krejci’s pass.
It wasn’t like Rask was having much of a game, either. In a span of less than 17 minutes between the end of the first and midway through the second, he gave up four goals – two each to Helm and Datsyuk – and was pulled in favor of “The Monster”, former Red Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson. It was the second time that Rask had been pulled in three starts, both after allowing five goals.
The Red Wings led 5-3 at home with 19 minutes left and the NHL’s hottest goalie in net. Game over, right?
Dennis Seidenberg scored 22 seconds after Helm made it 5-3 – the third time Mrazek had given up a goal within 30 seconds of a center-ice faceoff – and Joonas Kemppianen tied the score 38 seconds into the third period.
By that point, everyone in the building was watching for Jimmy Howard, but Blashill stayed with Mrazek. The move paid off, as he stopped the last nine shots he faced, and finally got some help from his defense. In the last three minutes, even as the Bruins pulled Gustavsson, they never got a shot on net.
By that point, Zetterberg had given Mrazek the sixth goal he needed, tipping a Danny DeKeyser slapshot past Gustavsson.
“Yeah, it was a different one today,” Zetterberg said. “It’s not often you’re in these kind of games anymore. You know, we score one and they score right back and then we score and they score.”
For Mrazek, it was a rare bad day, but for his team, it was a good one. They proved that they can win without him having to be at his best, and they picked up two crucial points against a division rival. The victory moves them to 67 points, one ahead of Boston for second place in the Atlantic Division and three points ahead of fourth-place Tampa Bay.
It was also another outstanding game for Zetterberg and Datsyuk, who were reunited for Detroit’s five-game homestand and combined for eight goals as the Red Wings went 4-0-1. Datsyuk’s three points on Sunday made him the sixth Red Wing to reach 900 for his career – the other five are all in the Hall of Fame.
Datsyuk will join them in a few years, but for right now, he and his “Euro Twin” partner are busy helping their young goalie lead the Red Wings back to yet another postseason appearance.