It seems like forever, but Detroit and Hockeytown have the NHL playoffs in their sights and minds. The Detroit Red Wings entered Saturday night’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Lighting having won seven of their last eight games. With this recent Red Wings surge, general manager Steve Yzerman may be inclined to buy cautiously ahead of the March 3rd trade deadline; something a month ago that did not seem imaginable.
Red Wings fans trekked into Little Caesars Arena in waves to take in this primetime matchup with one of the league’s best and an old rival. To many fans, Saturday night was the perfect measuring stick for the Red Wings. The Lightning trail only the Bruins and the Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division. It seems like Tampa Bay, and Toronto will continue to jostle for the second spot and home ice in the first round of the playoffs, with Boston having the top spot all but locked up unless they have some epic meltdown during the final quarter of the regular season. Tampa Bay entered the night trailing the Leafs by four points (76) but had two games in hand.
The Detroit Red Wings entered the night trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins by just one point for the final wild-card position in the Eastern Conference, but with the surging Buffalo Sabres sitting between the two also with 64 points like the Red Wings. Detroit also trailed the New York Islanders by three points for the first wild card position. There is a long way to go, but this wild card chase will be something to behold daily throughout the duration of the regular season.
Detroit Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde has been forced to make challenging lineup decisions over the past week as the team has become healthy. However, things will become even more complicated once Lucas Raymond is ready to return. Lalonde seems to continue to rotate, which forward will be the healthy scratch each game. The rotation appears to be between Filip Zadina, Jonatan Berggren, Jakub Vrana, and Dominik Kubalik. It was Berggren out on Thursday against the New York Rangers, and Saturday night, it was Jakub Vrana. Gustav Lindstrom also got the call in favor of Robert Hagg. Jordan Oesterle was the other healthy scratch.
Things didn’t start great in the first period for the Detroit Red Wings.
The Detroit Red Wings lost forward Michael Rasmussen in the first period after blocking a shot from defenseman Zach Bogosian. Following the block, Rasmussen hobbled his way to the Red Wings bench and needed assistance from a couple of training staff members down the tunnel toward Detroit’s locker room and would not return to the game. It would prove to be a tough loss; Rasmussen has been playing exceptionally well of late for the Red Wings.
Shortly after losing Rasmussen, star center Brayden Point opened the scoring at 9:04 of the first period with a gorgeous breakaway goal thanks to a tremendous pass from Nikita Kucherov to spring him. Point beat Ville Husso high and blocker side in a flash. It was Point’s team-leading 35th goal of the season.
Later in the first period, Kucherov rang the pipe again with a blistering one-timer high and blocker side. Moments later, Tyler Bertuzzi was absolutely robbed by Andrei Vasilevskiy. David Perron sent a cross-ice pass to a waiting Bertuzzi but was bested by a sprawling Vaselevskiy pushing right to left, making a spectacular left-pad save.
The first period would end with Tampa Bay leading the Red Wings 1-0. Detroit had the edge in shots 12-9.
Andrei Vasilevskiy continued to frustrate the Detroit Red Wings in the second period.
Vasilevskiy continued to steal the show in the second period. Midway through the frame, with the score still 1-0 Tampa, Moritz Seider was called for tripping Kucherov. It was an atrocious call; Kucherov actually tripped on a Tampa Bay stick as he circled Detroit’s goal. The Red Wings eventually killed off the infraction and got the best scoring chance of Tampa Bay’s power play. Jake Walman busted out of Detroit’s zone with speed, taking a shot from the hash marks and chased down the juicy rebound. Vasilevskiy pushed left to right, this time making a stellar save on Walman with his right pad.
The Lightning would add to their lead following a furry of grade-A scoring chances by the Detroit Red Wings. Jonatan Berggren had a glorious scoring chance but was stick-checked perfectly by Bogosian. Moments later, with 07 left in the period, Kucherov put Tampa Bay up 2-0 after his shot from the circle deflected off a sprawling Walman and trickled past Husso—just a terrible way to end a great period of play from Detroit. Detroit outshot the Lightning 19-3 in the second for a game total of 31-12.
More of the same in the third period.
Vasilevskiy continued to blank the Detroit Red Wings in the third period stopping all 45 shots he faced. Detroit doesn’t need to hang their head following this game; they ran into one of the league’s top netminders who had a Hall Of Fame-type performance.
The lone goal in the third period was an empty netter from Alex Killorn, who hit the goal post about four minutes prior while short-handed. Detroit would fall 3-0 to Tampa Bay. The Red Wings outshot the Lightning 45-18. The Red Wings went 0-4 on the power play and 2-2 on the penalty kill. Bertuzzi led the way in ice time for the Red Wings playing 22 minutes and recording five shots, with Larkin not too far behind with 21:57 and hammered six shots on goal. Moritz Seider played 20:54, registering three shots, two hits, and three blocks. Filip Hronek logged 21:16.
Next on the docket for the Red Wings is a back-to-back in Ottawa against the Senators on Monday and Tuesday.