BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Red Wings coach Mike Babcock will enjoy the win more than the milestone for now.
As special as it was to pass Jack Adams’ franchise win total, making the playoffs is the more immediate priority.
Darren Helm scored the go-ahead goal 3:33 into the third period to spark a three-goal outburst and inch Detroit to the cusp of clinching a playoff berth following a 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
“The win tonight is way more important than that,” Babcock said, when asked about the significance of earning his 414th career victory, one more than Adams.
“But what I would say to you is these are things you think about the summer. And I’m thrilled.”
Babcock then shifted his attention to his team’s next test. The Red Wings (38-27-14) travel to play Pittsburgh on Wednesday needing only one point to secure one of the Eastern Conference’s two wild-card playoff spots, and extend the team’s run of postseason berths to 23 straight seasons.
“I know we’ve got a game in Pittsburgh tomorrow. We’re going to enjoy this tonight,” Babcock said, noting the game at Pittsburgh could potentially be a first-round playoff preview. “The reality is, it’s an important game tomorrow.”
Brendan Smith, David Legwand and Pavel Datsyuk, into an empty net, also scored for the Red Wings. Jimmy Howard made 25 saves in a game the Red Wings rallied back after spotting the Sabres a 1-0 lead.
Zemgus Girgensons scored both goals for the Sabres (21-49-9), who are already guaranteed of finishing in last place once the season ends on Sunday.
The Red Wings continued their domination of Buffalo. They’ve won eight straight since a 6-2 loss on Oct. 13, 2009, and improved to 23-2-1-1 against Buffalo since March 27, 1996, according to STATS.
“It’s one good step in the right direction,” Howard said. “We’ve got to find a way to get a point or two points there tomorrow and keep it rolling, because you want to feel good going into the playoffs.”
Howard did his part in stopping several shots to keep the game tied at 1 during a Sabres’ two-man advantage that spanned 1:51 in the second period.
His best stops came on bang-bang chances. After turning aside Cody Hodgson’s hard shot from the left circle, Howard kicked out his right pad to foil Rasmus Ristolainen’s attempt to convert the rebound.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan said coming up empty on the power play changed the game’s momentum.
“When you play a good team like Detroit, they know how to close deals. We have a 5-on-3 with a chance to go ahead, we don’t do it, and that’s what happens,” Nolan said. “You look at the things we didn’t do right.”
The Red Wings found their groove to start the third.
Helm started the play that led to his go-ahead goal by winning a faceoff to the left of the Sabres net. He drew the puck back to Kyle Quincey, whose shot from the left point was deflected on its way to the net.
Matt Hackett made the initial stop, but was unable to control the rebound, which squirted through a crowd of players in front. Helm gathered up the loose puck and took a few steps to his right, where he snapped it into the open side before Hackett had time to recover.
Legwand then made it 3-1 to seal the win by beating Hackett through the legs with 4:14 remaining.
Girgensons made it close 2:03 later by capping a great individual rush, in which he got between two defenders and roofed a shot over Howard’s right shoulder.
NOTES: The Sabres called up G Andrey Makarov from AHL Rochester to serve as the backup. He became the eighth goalie to dress for at least one game this season, including Ryan Vinz, a Sabres HarborCenter employee who backed up Jhonas Enroth the day Ryan Miller was traded to St. Louis. … Red Wings RW Daniel Alfredsson’s assist on Smith’s goal upped career total to 712, tying him with Jean Beliveau and Scott Stevens for 48th on NHL list. … Sabres RW Chris Stewart returned after missing 16 games with a lower body injury, while D Christian Ehrhoff - nicknamed “Ear-Hoff” by his teammates - played two days after requiring numerous stitches to close a gash in his right ear, which was struck by a puck.
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