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The Red Wings gave themselves a shot of confidence with the way they played against the Wild. Filmed Jan. 12, 2019 in Saint Paul, Minn. Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — This was validation, this was one to celebrate. 

The Detroit Red Wings return home for a brief appearance at Little Caesars Arena buoyed by a victory that reinforces the message their coach has kept sending: Keep doing things right. 

The results had been lacking, but Saturday night they came: a 5-2 victory earned on the strength of playing well at both ends of the ice. The Wings took down a Minnesota Wild team that had won four of its last five games, scoring on the opening shift at Xcel Energy Center Tyler Bertuzzi, his NHL career just getting underway, delivered a hat trick in his 100th career game, while veteran Thomas Vanek contributed two goals a week after playing in his 1,000th game. 

The Wings had been in position to win multiple times since New Year’s Eve, but had won just once. They led the Wild, 3-2, after two periods, and found a way to keep building on that.

“We had our best third period of the year,” Dylan Larkin said. “We shut them down — any momentum they wanted to create, we ended it. It started with the goal the first shift. It was a big third period for us, more important than the win, I think, because we proved to ourselves we know how to win games.

“We need it bad. It feels pretty darn good.”

Larkin vented his frustrations the previous night, saying, “something has to click here. Something has to change where we buy in,” after the 4-2 loss at Winnipeg. The Wild did get too easy of a first goal, but the Wings outshot them, 21-2, in the second period. 

“We made great plays coming out of our zone,” Larkin said. “You can defend by keeping them in their zone. 

“It’s a statement win for us and reassurance that we can play with some of the best teams in the league.”

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One hundred and a hatty

Bertuzzi tipped Gustav Nyquist’s shot 24 seconds into the first period, redirected Larkin’s shot 47 seconds into the third period, and competed the hat trick with a short backhand at 8:38. 

“He’s just a good, fun kid, he battles hard, goes to the net,” Vanek said. “That’s the game I enjoy and I see a lot of similarities in his game. He loves going in there and getting his hair in his face, whatever. He’s good at it. His stick is in the air and he finds those tips. He’s only going to get better in this league.”

Bertuzzi called it a “big win for us to get on the right track here. That’s what we have to play like every night — keep it simple, get in the zone and grind. We bought in and we just kept doing the things we were doing before and it paid off.”

More: Tyler Bertuzzi ‘a real rare combination’ of what?

Bertuzzi has been a good fit on Larkin’s line.

“Just maybe his celebrations are pretty funny,” Larkin said. “He gets fired up. He plays with a lot of passion.

“We felt it wasn’t even our best game that we’ve played. We got bounces, we got pucks to the net with Bert there. I love that he’s always around the net, he’s always hungry, he’s always ready to battle.”

Being around the net is where Bertuzzi thrives.

“That’s his bread and butter, for sure,” Blashill said. “He’s real good around the net, he knows how to tip pucks.” 

The old man

It was a homecoming for Vanek, who played college hockey for Minnesota, and whose wife and children reside in the area (Vanek, 34, also played for the Wild from 2014-16). He joked it was nice for his sons and their friends to see “the old man” can still score. It’s been a tough season for Vanek, with nine goals in 39 games, but he showed off his skill set especially on his second goal when he danced through defenders and scored from the high slot. 

More: Determined Detroit Red Wings: ‘We weren’t losing. There’s no way.’

“His wicked slap shot — you see it every day in practice,” Larkin said. “It’s cool seeing him come back here where his family lives and where he went to school and where he calls home. Pretty cool after playing his 1,000th game. Great teammate, and great player. Cool to see him get two goals here.”

Vanek has talked about the importance of staying positive through tough times, and sounded relieved after what was only the Wings’ second victory in 11 games. 

“We’re playing good hockey, just not getting the results,” he said. “So it’s frustrating, but as a group, we’re doing a good job of learning, practicing and getting better. We played another great game and finally scored multiple goals, so that was nice. It’s tough to win in this league if you only score two like we have been, but playing good hockey. It’s a big win for us.”

Validation

Before the game, Blashill emphasized to players that the Wings had better offensive-zone time and chances than their opponents over the last few games. 

“Ultimately, that’s your best defense,” Blashill said. “We’ve talked about hanging in there, finding a way to do it right, making sure you stay with the process, not doing what we did at the beginning of the year and that’s cheating for offense and become a bad team. We have to stay with it.”

The Wings host the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday, then head off to Western Canada before going into the All-Star and bye-week break. The plan is to turn the Minnesota victory into a winning streak.

“We do believe here and we have the right guys to do this and play a certain way, which is a fast game,” Larkin said. “We have skilled forwards. There’s no reason we can’t have better results than we’ve had.

“To have this one on the road, now we have four games left before break. We feel we can go 5-0 before break and that’s huge momentum going into the last final sprint at the end.”

Contact Helene St. James: hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

 

https://www.freep.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2019/01/13/detroit-determination-minnesota-wild-win/2558314002/

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