It hasn’t been a kind stretch of hockey for the Detroit Red Wings.
They came into Sunday’s game in Buffalo with just one win in their last nine games, including a string of five overtime games.
This one was their third game in four days and came the day after a tough 4-2 loss at home to Ottawa.
They knew the score in the Atlantic Division, and they knew the key to coming out of Buffalo with a win — special teams.
With a solid penalty kill and two key power plays, the Red Wings were able to exhale with their 3-1 win over the Sabres at First Niagara Center.
“Obviously you look in the standings and teams in our division all won so we’ve got to keep pace,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “That was a tough loss last night. We knew coming in here in Buffalo we had to play a more sound game for 60 minutes. Specialty teams would be a big factor on back-to-back nights and it turned out that way.”
While the Sabres took a 1-0 lead in the first period, Detroit tied the game just 30 seconds into the second on a goal from Darren Helm.
To start the third, the Red Wings killed off a penalty. They then had a pair of chances with the man advantage. While they didn’t convert on their first power play, they did keep the puck in the zone for nearly the entire two minutes as the Sabres whiffed on three opportunities to clear the puck.
Detroit got the go-ahead goal when Johan Franzen scored on the next power play, thanks in part to a bounce off the Sabres’ defense.
“Tonight we stuck with it. I thought we had the puck the whole first period and yet we were down, 1-0,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.
“The big kill to start the third. … It was critical for us to get through that. I thought our last two power plays, we didn’t score on our first one but we had the puck in the zone for two straight minutes. Then the second one we got one on, so obviously specialty teams, as you know, was huge. It was a good win for us.”
Henrik Zetterberg picked up an assist on Franzen’s goal for his 700th career point.
The Red Wings host Boston on Wednesday.
Detroit was without leading corer Pavel Datsyuk in the game as the Red Wings left him home with a possible concussion. Datsyuk took an elbow to the head in Detroit’s loss to Ottawa on Saturday. He was hit by Ottawa’s Jared Cowen and no penalty was called on the play.
On Sunday, the NHL announced there would be no additional discipline for Cowen.
Datsyuk has 12 goals and 11 assists in 24 games for the Red Wings.
There was Sabres excitement midway through the third period when Steve Ott earned a penalty shot after being hooked on a breakaway.
He tried to go right both times, using a similar move, but Jonas Gustavsson made the stop for Detroit both times.
“On the breakaway, it was a very similar move,” Ott said. “I thought I saw a wide-open net but I lost the puck and it went in the corner. So same move. I actually thought I had him beat but he had a skate blade on it. It’s something I really wish we got because we’re definitely lacking in the scoring department. It would have been nice to have.”
The move surprised Gustavsson.
“I didn’t actually think he was going to go that way again because that’s the way he went, I felt like, when he had the first opportunity there, but he did,” said the Detroit goalie, who made 21 saves. “I just tried to be patient, and follow and I was lucky enough he didn’t score.”
The Sabres are now 19 of 54 on penalty shots in team history. The last penalty shot attempt was an unsuccessful one from Patrick Kaleta against Pittsburgh on Feb. 19, 2012.
The Sabres scratched defensemen Mike Weber and Jamie McBain in favor of returning Mark Pysyk to the lineup. Alexander Sulzer took the roster spot of the injured Cody McCormick.
Pysyk was paired with Brayden McNabb while Sulzer was with Christian Ehrhoff.
Brian Flynn, who was a scratch in Philadelphia on Thursday, also returned to the lineup, centering Corey Tropp and Marcus Foligno.
Also scratched for Buffalo was John Scott.