Bernier, Athanasiou lead Wings to 2-1 win over Islanders
The Red Wings were soundly outplayed by the New York Islanders on Saturday afternoon.
But Jonathan Bernier took care of that.
Bernier made 41 saves, including a couple of big ones in the last 20 seconds – in which he also benefited from a well-placed goal post that got in the puck’s way – and Detroit defeated the New York Islanders 2-1 at Little Caesars Arena.
“He was our best player on the ice,” said Dylan Larkin of Bernier. “I thought, huge for him and huge for our team to win a game like this.”
It was Bernier’s first win since Feb. 2.
"It's been a long time, obviously," he said.
Andreas Athanasiou scored both goals for the Wings, who snapped a four-game losing streak. The goals were his 25th and 26th of the season.
“That’s definitely a milestone,” Athanasiou said of the possibility of reaching 30 goals (the Wings have 10 games left). “I think that’s a lot of goals for sure. If I could do that, obviously, it’d feel good. I think it’ll feel better if it comes with wins in these last games. That’s all I really look for.”
He has also moved to center from playing the wing after the trade of Gustav Nyquist at the trade deadline. Athanasiou is still adjusting to playing in the middle, where he has to use his speed differently, particularly in the defensive zone.
“Him and I talked. You have to stop in your own zone and compete like crazy, otherwise you play nothing but d-zone,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “You have to slow yourself down on breakouts and you have to be underneath the puck. If you don't do those two things, you can't be a center long term. I think tonight he did a way better job of that.”
Athanasiou’s second goal broke a 1-1 tie, 9:57 into the second period when he tapped in a shot/pass by Dan DeKeyser.
“I think I'm getting more and more comfortable with every game, and every shift and every face-off I take,” Athanasiou said. “I think you definitely mature as a player and grow into the position a little more.”
He will also have to be consistent with his effort and engagement into each game, which has been an issue in the past.
“The way he skated tonight, not too many people can defend him,” said Larkin about Athanasiou. “He’s a dangerous player when he skates like that.”
Larkin returned after missing five games with a neck sprain. He had an even plus/minus in 21:50 of action.
“Larks competed hard, really hard … I thought he skated good,” Blashill said. “I don't think he was as sharp defensively as he’s taken pride in being.”
Athanasiou gave Detroit a 1-0 lead 2:59 into the game on a combination of his speed and puck-carrying ability and luck. After lugging the puck from his own zone into the New York zone, he took a shot from just above the right circle that deflected in off the knee of Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulack.
Anders Lee tied it for the Islanders with 9:42 left in the first period, four seconds after the Red Wings killed off a penalty.
“We had 40-plus shots and played a really good game, but Bernier played a wonderful game,” Lee said. “Give the Red Wings credit for doing what it took to keep us from getting the second goal.”
Rookie winger Ryan Kuffner made his NHL debut after signing a two-year entry contract earlier in the week after his senior season at Princeton ended.
Kuffner was even in 7:08 of ice time, including 1:53 on the power play.