Detroit – Of course it would happen on the final day of the regular season, in the final game at Joe Louis Arena.
Riley Sheahan avoided heading into the offseason thinking about not having scored a goal the entire season – then added another goal for good measure.
Henrik Zetterberg, playing in his 1,000th career game, stars as he has so often in his career.
And there were enough special moments to make Sunday’s game beyond memorable, with the 4-1 victory New Jersey making the final result almost a distant secondary footnote.
But an enjoyable footnote, nonetheless.
“It was just an enjoyable evening,” forward Justin Abdelkader said.
Zetterberg had a goal and assist in his career milestone game, Tomas Tatar scored, and of course, Sheahan, who waited until the final day of the regular season to end his goalless drought. Goaltender Jimmy Howard stopped 24 shots.
“For sure it was a huge relief,” Sheahan said. “A little late, but you can’t do anything, that’s in the past. But it’ll be good to go in to the summer. I have some things to work on, but at least we finished of as a group pretty hard.”
In all, it was a great way to send out Joe Louis Arena as the Red Wings move into Little Caesars Arena next season.
But Sheahan’s goal certainly brought a ton of smiles to Red Wings fans.
Sheahan scored at 7:09 of the first period Sunday, giving the Red Wings a 1-0 lead.
The goal, incidentally, was the first Sheahan had scored in exactly a year – April 9, 2016 – a total of 79 games in between.
Sheahan took a pass from Frans Nielsen near the goal line, skated out into the circle and snapped a shot that beat goalie Cory Schneider high.
The goal enabled Sheahan to avoid being the only NHL forward to record at least 100 shots in a season and not score a goal – Sheahan had 106 entering the game.
Then, in the third period, Sheahan added a power-play goal with 2:33 left in the game to put thte Red Wings ahead 4-1 – and record his second goal of the season.
“To have him score the last goal at the Joe, that was the perfect player to have that,” Zetterberg said.
Tatar pushed the lead to 2-0 just a little over four minutes later.
Zetterberg carried the puck into the zone, and found Gustav Nyquist skating down the slot. Nyquist snapped a shot, Schneider made the save, but left the rebound for Tatar waiting at the post at 11:19.
It was Tatar’s team-leading 25th goal.
The Red Wings outshot New Jersey 17-5 in the first period, totally jumping the Devils as a delirious crowd enjoying all the history and emotion at Joe Louis Arena roared.
Zetterberg made it 3-0 on his milestone day in the second period.
After a Devils turnover deep in their zone, Zetterberg gathered the puck near the goal line in close and beat Schneider for his 17th goal at 10:18.
The Devils appeared on the verge of making things interesting to start the third period.
John Moore scored at 1:15 to cut the lead to 3-1, and an apparent goal by Taylor Hall just 14 seconds later really had fans beginning to get nervous.
But the Red Wings challenged Hall’s goal, and video confirmed a kicking motion, which led to the goal being disallowed – and the Red Wings still holding a 3-1 lead.
The actual emotion and excitement surrounding the final game at JLA matched the hype leading to it.
Steve Yzerman dropped the ceremonial first puck, his Tampa team being eliminated from the playoffs the night before.
Darren McCarty, Larry Murphy and Tomas Holmstrom were part of the ice crew during the game, as was former goaltending coach Jim Bedard.
Zamboni driver Al Sobtoka and anthem singer Karen Newman both received huge ovations in their final Joe Louis Arena appearances.
“A lot of memories, a lot of goosebumps,” Nyquist said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t get these fans a better ride this season at the Joe, but we at least we came out with a good effort tonight and got a win.”
LISTS OF JOE LOUIS ARENA LASTS
Last goal: Riley Sheahan, power play, 17:27 of 3rd period
Last assists: Frans Nielsen, Dylan Larkin
Last shot: Beau Bennett, at 19:56 of 3rd period
Last penalty: Stefan Noesen 16:46 in 3rd period hooking Gustav Nyquist
Last three stars: 1) Henrik Zetterberg, 2) Riley Sheahan, 3) Gustav Nyquist
Last faceoff (and won): Henrik Zetterberg
Last wave: With 3 minutes gone in the third period
Last 50/50 drawing: Worth a JLA record $61,868
Last octopus thrown: Impossible to decipher. They’re likely still throwing them.