It mattered little that more than 30 games remain in the season for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings. The crowd of 14,411 at the Detroit Olympia Tuesday night was at a peak of playoff excitement.
At stake was a two-point edge in the battle for a wild-card berth in the National Hockey League playoffs. The teams were tied with 41 points and Detroit had played three fewer games.
But, as Penguins Coach Johnny Wilson observed, "We're got a good, aggressive club. We're not being intimidated, especially on the road."
They're also getting spectacular goaltending from Denis Herron, who made 48 saves to beat the Red Wings, 5-3, on their home rink.
"I expected a lot of shots, but not 51" Herron exclaimed. Herron actually stopped 49 pucks, because someone in the stands beaned him with one after the final buzzer.
"I'm okay now," said Herron, fingering a lump on the back of his head. "But the fans sure get excited in this building."
So do the coaches. Detroit's Bobby Kromm stormed into the officials' dressing room to argue penalties that led to pivotal Pittsburgh power-play goals.
On his way to the officials' room, Kromm encountered supervisor of officials Frank Udvari. "Why do you send a minor-league official to do an important game like this?" he bellowed, referring to referee Bob Myers.
Myers assessed an elbowing penalty to Detroit left wing Dan Maloney at 14:37 of the first period, then gave the Red Wings a bench penalty when Maloney didn't proceed directly to the penalty box.
Pittsburgh turned the two-man advantage into power-play goals 54 seconds apart by Jean Pronovost and Blair Chapman to break a 1-1 tie and take the lead for good.
"Myers called an uncalled-for second penalty on Maloney," argued Kromm. "(Pittsburgh's) Brian Spencer impeded his progress to the penalty box. Spencer should have gotten the penalty.
"I'm tired of being soft-soaped by the supervisor of NHL officials," the Red Wing coach continued. "We protest, they look at the films, then they soft-soap us."
The victory also gave the Penguins a two-point edge over the New York Rangers, who were tied with Detroit and Pittsburgh before the game began.
Under the new playoff format, the first two teams in each division make the playoffs, with the next four spots being awarded to the other teams with the most points. The loss left Detroit dead even with the Rangers in the running for the final wild-card spot although the Red Wings have played three fewer games.
Canadiens 5, Rockies 3
Jacques Lemaire scored three goals on assists from Guy Lafleur to help Montreal extend its unbeaten streak to 18 games by beating Colorado before the Rockies' biggest home crowd ever - 15,404.
Flames 7, North Stars 4
Left wing Eric Vail scored two goals and defenseman Ed Kea had three assists to carry Atlanta past Minnesota, which has won just two of its last 14 games.