DETROIT — The NHL-leading Boston Bruins followed their game plan of keeping Gustav Nyquist in front of them for more than two periods.
When the puck got loose, and Nyquist got to it, though, one of the game’s best defenseman and goalies couldn’t stop the surging goal-scorer.
Nyquist broke a tie with 7:12 left in the third period on his only shot of the game, and the Detroit Red Wings held on to beat Boston 3-2 on Wednesday night.
“I didn’t think Gus had one of his best games by any means, but he scored a big goal,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.
Nyquist has a league-high 23 goals since Jan. 20 and a team-high 27 this season. He has given the Red Wings the breakout player they needed to boost their chances of extending their postseason streak to 23 seasons while missing many key players, including Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
The 24-year-old Swede started the season with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins after scoring a total of four goals in 40 games the previous two seasons.
“That’s one of the young players that has come in here, and given the chance to be a front guy has taken total of advantage of it,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “Those things probably don’t happen if Datsyuk and Zetterberg are still in the lineup.
“When things like that happen, some guys are really good at stepping to the forefront. He’s done an unbelievable job of doing that.”
The Bruins turned the puck over near Detroit’s blue line, paving the way for Nyquist to score. He raced up ice, skated around defenseman Zdeno Chara and ended his blurring sequence by scoring against Tuukka Rask.
“I think (Chara) came off the bench so it was tough for him to get enough time to gap up, got kind of flat-footed,” Nyquist said. “I just tried to use my speed.”
He has done that a lot lately, scoring in three straight games and having at least one point in 10 games in a row.
Nyquist scored 1:42 after teammate Tomas Jurco tied the game. Jimmy Howard finished with 33 saves to seal the win, strengthening Detroit’s spot as a wild-card team in the Eastern Conference with six games left.
“Howie kept us in the game and gave us a chance,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We didn’t play great, but we found a way.”
The Atlantic Division-champion Bruins have been doing that for a while, winning a franchise-record nine straight on the road and earning at least a point in their previous 16 games.
Boston led the Red Wings twice, but couldn’t put away the young, scrappy and short-handed team.
“They’ve got really good speed,” Rask said. “We did a pretty good job of shutting them down, but not good enough.”
Rask made 17 saves before being pulled for an extra skater with 1:14 left.
Detroit’s Tomas Tatar scored early in the second period to tie the game the Bruins were basically dominating. Tatar used his left skate to push the puck across the front of the crease to set up Jurco’s goal.
The Bruins held out 36-year-old forward Jarome Iginla because of a lower-body injury, and the team said he is day to day. Iginla played in Boston’s first 75 games this season, leading the team with 30 goals and ranking second with 61 points.
The defending Eastern Conference champions outshot Detroit 11-4 in the first period and 14-7 in the second before seemingly playing less aggressively in the third when they went ahead.
“I thought we let our guard down the second part of the third and they capitalized on it,” Julien said.
Johnny Boychuk’s slap shot put the Bruins up 1-0 late in the first, and Carl Soderberg gave them a 2-1 lead early in the third. Boychuk scored shortly after an apparent Boston goal was waved off because Chara was in the crease.
Tatar tied it 4:45 into the second with a wrist shot from the right circle that went across traffic and got past Rask as his view was obstructed by Detroit’s Riley Sheahan. Tatar, another one of many young players who has made the most of an opportunity to play a lot for the banged-up team, has 19 goals after scoring five times in 27 games the previous two seasons.
The Bruins went back ahead 1:10 into the third when Soderberg scored from the left circle off a cross-ice pass from Patrice Bergeron.
Detroit, though, refused to go away and rallied for a much-needed win.