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The Detroit Red Wings seem to be figuring out how to play in tight situations. Filmed Jan. 17, 2019 in Detroit. Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press

Their nascent winning streak faces a monumental test, but the Detroit Red Wings are growing in confidence.

The Wings have won two games in a row for the first time in six weeks, on the strength of closing out opponents in the third period. That was a facet they lacked as recently as this month. Being able to do what the Wings did in their last two third periods —rallying from a one-goal deficit against Anaheim by scoring three goals and padding a one-goal lead at Minnesota with two goals — is especially encouraging for a young team. 

“I think a lot of times with young players, it’s a process to learn how to play with the lead,” coach Jeff Blashill said Thursday. “It’s a process to learn how to win tight games. It’s a process to understand how to manage your game, how to manage risk-reward, because that’s what it comes down to lots of times. So it’s 100 percent a process.

“The other part of it that’s a learned thing is working through the months of January and February, when the schedule gets long and you don’t see tons of light at the end of the tunnel. It’s easy to play on opening night. It’s harder to be at your best through these parts of the year, and yet the guys that are at their best every night are the ones that are the elite players, and the teams that are at their best every night are the ones that are the elite teams.”

More: Thomas Vanek sparked the Wings. Here’s what he said

The Wings will face one of those elite teams on Friday when they play at Calgary (9 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit). The Flames boast the league’s second-best record and second-best offense with a 3.67 goals-per-game average.

It’ll be a challenge for the Wings to build momentum, but at least they’ve built some after a 1-7-2 stretch in which they lost five of those games by one goal (another two were two-goal losses that included an empty-net goal). The Wings played well, start to finish, at Minnesota, and showed growth against the Ducks.

More: How soon before Red Wings are good again?

“For starters we’re not in our own end the whole time,” Jimmy Howard said. “In the past when we’ve had the lead, we’ve sat back and played in our own end for the whole period. There’s been some push-back here when we’ve had the lead and we’ve pushed forward and it’s been nice to see.”

Anthony Mantha said the Wings are learning that “if you don’t step on the gas, anything can happen — any team can score. We have to keep pushing forward and keep closing games.”

More: Wings see Anthony Mantha as premier power forward — one day

The inability to do so earlier in the season has dropped the Wings from the playoff picture, but it matters that the young guys are showing growth. It was especially encouraging that the first goal the Wings scored against Anaheim read Mantha from Andreas Athanasiou and Dylan Larkin. All three are major blocks in the rebuild.

“It’s critical for the long-term prognosis of our organization that the young guys continue to take steps,” Blashill said. “They were the ones that kind of started that rally. I’m not going to put that line together all the time, but it’s nice to be able to throw those three guys together and if they can give you a spark like that, that’s a great thing. Our young guys have been real important pieces of this team, they’ve bee through the growing pains. There’s ups and downs that have gone with it, but I think there’s a growth process that’s been real important that I’m excited about.”

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

 

https://www.freep.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2019/01/17/detroit-red-wings-youngsters-learning-through-hard-times/2604976002/

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