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Detroit Red Wings centre Dylan Larkin and Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Ron Hainsey battle for the puck during a game on Dec. 15, 2017.Rick Osentoski/The Globe and Mail

The Detroit Red Wings earned a desperately needed victory by figuring out how to hold onto a third-period lead.

Trevor Daley scored a tiebreaking, short-handed goal midway through the second period and Detroit went on to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 on Friday night.

Jimmy Howard had 25 saves for the slumping Red Wings. They had won only one of their previous 11 games, losing the previous two games after having a one-goal lead in the final period.

"It was getting tougher and tougher every day with that many losses," said Tomas Tatar, who scored Detroit's third goal. "Hopefully, we will turn it around and build off this."

Detroit coach Jeff Blashill has tried to keep his players focused on what he calls "the process," which includes managing the puck well, pressure teams and playing fast. He acknowledged, though, it isn't easy to keep telling players to stick with a plan that isn't leading to wins.

"Results help you," Blashill said. "They make you feel better about yourself."

The Maple Leafs lost their third straight, matching a season high.

"They came out hard and we weren't ready for it," Toronto's Andreas Borgman said. "They put us under pressure and we turned over too many pucks. We know we are better than that, but we have to dig in and play that way."

Toronto was without star centre Auston Matthews for a fourth straight game because of an upper-body injury.

"He was out," Daley joked, adding Matthews is a great player.

Toronto is averaging three-plus goals, ranking among NHL leaders, but it has scored a total of four goals in four games without Matthews.

"Anytime you lose a player like that, it's going to change your team," Detroit defenceman Danny DeKeyser said.

Curtis McElhinney stopped 26 shots for Toronto, getting a chance to play for just the sixth time this season in place of No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen because the team was playing on a second straight day.

"I felt pretty good, but I think I needed to make one, more big save to give us a better chance," he said. "I thought we were going to get more than one goal, but it just didn't happen."

Borgman opened the scoring 1:58 into the game and the Matthews-less team struggled to generate offence after that.

DeKeyser pulled the Red Wings into a tie early in the first and Tatar's power-goal goal gave them a two-goal cushion they needed.

"It got the pressure off us," Tatar said. "You have to score more of these in games like this. I know it's impossible to do it every time, but it will help to pick up the win for sure."

Toronto played its fifth game in a seven-day stretch, but Mike Babcock refused to let that fact be an excuse.

"Good teams find a way to dig in and win these games," he said. "They do it not necessarily on skill, but on determination and good composure and knowing how to play right. So we have some work to do. We know that."

Eleven defencemen, including three returning players, are vying for seven spots on Canada’s men’s junior hockey team. Kale Clague says the team is aiming to avoid shootouts after losing last year’s tournament final in a shootout.

The Canadian Press