DETROIT – Winning championships and setting records is usually up to the players to achieve. But to the players on this current Red Wings’ team, the newly-minted NHL record that they set Tuesday night belongs to the fans.
“Some night’s it feels like you have another guy out there. And that’s huge because we’re able to feed off of that and get so much more energy when the crowd is involved,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Everything really starts with the fans going back to when we played San Jose in the playoffs. The way the fans were last year was just unbelievable, and that’s carried over to this year.”
Led by a pair of first-period goals and an exuberant home crowd – which began the game with a chant of “Let’s go Red Wings!” and ended it by chanting “21! 21!” – the Wings became the first team in NHL history to win 21 straight home games by beating the Dallas Stars, 3-1, at a sold-out Joe Louis Arena.
After the final horn, all of the Wings’ players spontaneously skated to center ice and waved their sticks in saluting the enthusiastic fans with a heartfelt ‘Hockeytown Thanks’ for their indestructible support.
“I think everyone was thinking about going to center ice because the fans are a huge part of this and they’re really helping us play good at home,” said center Henrik Zetterberg, who scored the Wings’ first goal. “It’s fun to break the record and they are definitely a part of it.”
Tuesday’s win lifted the Wings passed the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and the 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers, who each won 20 consecutive home games at the Boston Garden and The Spectrum, respectively.
Playing in the most important game of his career, backup goalie Joey MacDonald earned his fourth win in the last week, stopping 20 shots that he faced. MacDonald was pressed into service after All-Star goalie Jimmy Howard suffered a fractured right index finger in Vancouver on Feb. 2.
“I think the last 4-5 minutes it was a playoff-like atmosphere, just like (Sunday),” said MacDonald, who is 4-1-1 since being recalled from Grand Rapids. “We were pumped in here and they were pumped out there. Once we got that third goal everyone kind of settled down. We did a great job blocking shots and I thought our third and fourth lines did good tonight.”
The pressure of the winning streak hasn’t been an ideal situation for MacDonald to step into, but like everyone else on the team, he raised his game at the most-importunate time.
“I’ve talked about the great teams that we’ve had over the years with some great players,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said, “but I think this shows that our team is strong. There are different guys stepping up at different moments, not relying on the top guys all of the time. We’ve had other guys step-up and score goals and win games for us and I think that’s been a big part of this streak.”
Some arenas and stadiums throughout professional and college sports are known for pumping in artificial noise to stir-up fans to give the home team a little added advantage in their buildings. The Wings, however, haven’t needed such assistance.
“This building doesn’t need any help,” Kronwall said. “That’s something you try to do to rally up the crowd and help them out in one way or another. In here, the crowd is feeding off itself, and you don’t need any help from the outside whatsoever.”
During the home streak, the Wings saw several players reach milestones for games-played in their NHL careers, including Zetterberg (600th on No. 11), Kronwall (400th on Nov. 12), Darren Helm (200th on Nov. 23), Pavel Datsyuk (700th on Dec. 31) and Tomas Holmstrom (1,000th on Feb. 10).
But mid-January was also cause for celebration as three players and coach Mike Babcock were recognized for significant achievements, including Datsyuk who attained his 700th career point when he registered a season-high three assists in a win over Buffalo.
However, the most individual milestones reached came all at once, in a 3-2 shoot-out victory against Phoenix. In the game, forward Danny Cleary notched his 200th career assist, while Babcock and Howard earned their 400th and 100th NHL wins, respectively.
|Red Wings’ players saluted the fans after defeating the Dallas Stars, 3-1, which set a new NHL record for consecutive home victories. (Photo by Greg Shamus)|
The streak also saw Lidstrom pass hockey hall of famer and Wings legend Alex Delvecchio for second on the Wings’ all-time games-played list, when he skated Sunday evening in game No. 1,550. In doing so, Lidstrom became the only player in league history to appear in that many games while playing for one organization during the entirety of his career.
Only Gordie Howe has played more games in a Wings’ uniform, doing so 1,687 times.
The Wings’ previous best home stretch was 14 straight wins, which occurred during the 1964-65 campaign. Detroit has now gone 104 days without losing a game on home ice, outscoring opponents, 86-31. The last loss at The Joe came in a 4-1 setback to Calgary on Nov. 3.
Detroit has built a 24-2-1 record at home, and now has 80-points in the Western Conference standings with a five-point cushion over the St. Louis, which is in second-place in the Central Division.
“Obviously, we’re all happy with the wins, but tomorrow is another day,” Kronwall said. “We just can’t look back and be satisfied, because there will be a new challenge tomorrow and we’ll have to keep challenging ourselves to get another two points.”
Detroit has been so dominant during the streak that they’ve trailed just twice entering the third period – against the Blues (Dec. 27) and Coyotes (Jan. 12). But to the players, the support of the JLA crowd has been like playing 60-minutes on the power play.
“They absolutely fire us up,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “It’s always easier to play with your home crowd, especially our home crowd that has been good to us, and has been for a lot of years. It’s like having an extra player out there.”
By gaining a share of the record, the Wings now hold both home and road marks for consecutive wins. Detroit won an NHL-record 12 road games in a row – from March 1-April 15, 2006 – during Babcock’s first season behind the Wings’ bench.
The Wings also hold the league record for the longest winning streak, including the playoffs, which they set en route to claiming the 1955 Stanley Cup. That year they won the final nine regular-season games and the first six playoff games, sweeping the Toronto Maple Leafs in the semifinals, before taking a 2-0 series lead over Montreal in the finals. The Wings eventually won the Cup with a 3-1 win over the Canadiens in Game 7 at Olympia Stadium.
The Wings will go for their 22nd straight home win this Friday when they host the Nashville Predators.