The Red Wings were in the same place, at nearly the same point in the contest, in Game 2 in Tampa, as they were in Game 1 in Tampa. Tied at 2. Chances for both teams. All to play for.
Unfortunately, for the Red Wings, they find themselves down 2-0 in the series, headed back for a Sunday evening contest at Joe Louis Arena, and needing to win four of the next five against a Lightning team, that as it did last year, may be growing more emboldened and confident with each victory.
Here’s “Ten Things I’m Sure Of” after Game 2’s 5-2 defeat, and in advance of Game 3.
1. The better team won — again. This is the struggle sometimes in assessing how a series has evolved, and where it’s going to go and how long it’s lasting. Is it better to feel you’re the better team, and should have won both (or either) games, but knowing that’s a hard ask — to keep being the better squad? Or would the Red Wings feel more confident knowing they haven’t had a “great” game from a starting goaltender yet, and that they can play better, the power play can create more chances, and capitalize on them, and just by some form of logic, that some, if, not all of those things can happen.
You can choose one side or the other, but you can’t argue this: the Red Wings are right where they deserve to be, and there wasn’t enough in either third period of the first two games to remotely suggest otherwise.
2. Road teams need to have the lead on the road in the first two games of a series longer than the Wings have had it. Yes! Thanks! Great insight! But, truth be told, the Red Wings have only had the lead for 5:22 of the 120 minutes they’ve played so far. Obviously, the team with the most goals wins the game, but when you score those goals is often of critical importance. The Wings, following the Brad Richards equalizer in the 2nd period, couldn’t even keep it tied at 2 long enough to plant even the smallest seed of doubt in the Lightning players’ minds about the eventual outcome of the game, given Tyler Johnson’s go-ahead goal a mere 125 seconds after Richards’ one.
3. The goal-scoring issues for the Red Wings in the playoffs is no longer some trivial “small sample size” one. In 14 of the past 18 playoff games, dating back to the Blackhawks series in 2013, the Red Wings have scored two goals or fewer in the game. Now, goals, in general, have been tougher to come by for the Wings than in their dominant years (they’ve been in the top half of the NHL in goals scored in just one of the past four seasons, 13th last year in 14/15), but obviously, there’s no equation that could be drawn up to ever suggest two goals are enough to win most games. For example, in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs first round, there were 47 games played, and 11 of them (23.4%) ended with the winning team scoring two or less. And as we know, if you’re doing that, your goaltending just has to be better than Jimmy Howard-level.
4. Howard didn’t make near as many big saves as in Game 1, but started the game strong enough to give his team a chance to push the Lightning back on their heels. Howard stopped the first 13 even-strength shots he faced. There aren’t goals in this series so far, in which Howard has had “no chance” to make the save, because he’s an NHL goalie, and they always do, but if you’re looking for that spectacular moment from him, or set of them, I’m not sure it’s coming. We know DRW fans have been privileged in the past to roll from Mike Vernon, to Chris Osgood, to Dominik Hasek, to Curtis Joseph, back to Hasek, and back to Osgood. Playoff goaltending can have the odd hiccup, of course, but from spring 1995 well thru 2011, with the add of retrospective clarity, it wasn’t as big as a concern usually as it was often made out to be. There still needed to be those stellar performances — Vernon’s 3rd period in G2 against the Avalanche in ’97, Osgood’s G6 shutout against Dallas in ’98, Hasek’s G6 shutout in Denver in ’02 (Roy’s Statue Of Liberty game) — but the Red Wings’ faithful know in their heart of hearts, that that type of game, and to follow up on it, as importantly, is a huge ask of Howard right now.
5. The Abdelkader penalty was one of the most glaringly selfish and untimely penalties we’ve seen a Red Wing player take in a playoff game in ages. The first intermission was in sight — if the Red Wings can kill off the Nyquist minor, there’s 3:40 left in the first period — the road team dodges the early punches, creates some chances, never allows the Lightning crowd an opportunity to erupt….and then THAT. As unnecessary as it was dangerous, as reckless as it was obvious — the slewfoot penalty (called as tripping) when Abdelkader upended Tyler Johnson, gave the Bolts a 5-on-3 PP for 1:33, and the Lightning only needed 30 of the 93 seconds to take the lead, and make the Red Wings play again from behind. More on Abdelkader later, but there’s not even a “fine line” between getting under an opponent’s skin and endangering all your team has worked so hard for in the offseason, and beginning in September. It’s not a fine line at all, it’s a huge chasm that everyone can see. Abdelkader dove right into it, at the worst imaginable time. I doubt the league looks at video of that particular play for a possible suspension — but in the regular season, it wouldn’t be impossible, though Johnson wasn’t injured and wasn’t slow to get up. If anything, the hits up high by DeKeyser and Larkin at different points of the game were things the Red Wings got away with, slightly.
6. The veteran Swedes weren’t good. At all. 35-year old Henrik Zetterberg and 35-year old Niklas Kronwall both had their struggles, and as frustratingly for Wings’ fans, more often than not, in their own zone. Look, we all know that age is but a number — but the wearing and tearing on both Zetterberg and Kronwall has been noticed and discussed for a couple seasons now. There were a few games for Zetterberg at the start of the 14/15 season after his injury-plagued season before he looked a lot more ready for either marginal usage by Babcock, or even retirement. There is still a series going on, but last night looked like another of those evenings. He looked staggered by the pace of the Lightning players, and he should given several of their best forwards are 10-12 years younger, with a ton less wear and tear. The same issues are there for Kronwall. For all the whining about Babcock’s impact (believed by some to be overly detrimental on young blueliners like Kindl, Ericsson, Smith, even go back as far as Derek Meech), what wasn’t up for debate was the mileage and results he got from veteran D-men like Rafalski, Stuart, and Chelios. Opposing forwards not only don’t fear that big hit from Kronwall anymore, but they seem to know they can exploit both the lack of foot speed, and the quickness needed to make an initial play out of the zone. Both vets need to have much better games in Detroit.
7. The Red Wings power-play needs adjusting, even if it’s minor. I know they scored a power-play goal (Richards, very late in the early-3rd period penalty to Nesterov), but it’s not generating shot opportunities or chances. You can tell the Red Wings’ 1st PP unit is equally frustrated, and past the midway point of the game, during the late-2nd period PP with Boyle off, panic seemed to rule the day and Zetterberg, Kronwall, and Abdelkader, even, seemed content with just lobbing shots towards the goal — low-percentage stuff, and easily blocked or intercepted for a clearance by Tampa. I’d like to see Dylan Larkin on the 1st unit centering Datsyuk and Nyquist, and utilize Mike Green on that right point instead of Kronwall — it’s not even a close contest as to who the better PP QB is. It’s Green, in a landslide, and he’s getting onto the ice, usually, under chaotic circumstances, with 25-35 seconds of PP time left. Change that.
8. There WERE positives. Remember — it’s a one-goal game until the fire drill that occured when Jonathan Ericsson flooded coverage of Johnson (with two other Red Wings already there), allowing Killorn to circle the net and pull Howard well out of position to make the save on the Johnson shot. I thought Tomas Tatar was excellent, and should see more minutes. Joakim Andersson’s ice-time was limited to a few scattered defensive zone starts and a modest amount of PK time. He’s fine in that capacity. Marchenko and Quincey both played fine, despite the latter making a couple awful clearing attempts right up the middle (although one was almost certainly gloved back in from the other side of the blueline, and had a Lightning goal been scored, Blashill and staff have an easy video review request.
9. We ARE giving the Lightning enough credit, right? It’s basically the same core of a team which won 14 playoff games last season, and had a lead in the Final against a team we’ll all claim was a little more “dynastic” than they get credit for, in Chicago. They’re missing Steven Stamkos. You wouldn’t know it. They had 10 forwards instead of 12 available to them for a notable stretch, missing J.T. Brown for almost all of the game, and with a couple shifts missed from Ondrej Palat, after the questionable DeKeyser hit (I certainly thought it was 2 minutes, not 5 or suspension-worthy). No Anton Stralman? No problem, either. Hedman’s a superstar, and yet, their best D-man in Game 2 may have been Jason Garrison. He was everywhere and a threat to score as well. Jonathan Drouin’s speed and smarts made the Brian Boyle goal possible, and Val Filppula played quietly yet responsibly, and was the Lightning’s best faceoff man. Ben Bishop? He’s good. 2 goals or less given up in 8 of his last 10 playoff starts, dating back to last year’s Stanley Cup Final and Eastern Conference Final.
10. Will there be widespread changes in the Wings’ lineup? I know it’s what some are predicting, but I’m not so sure. I believe Petr Mrazek must have a nagging injury of some sort, which led to a decline in performance from mid-March on. It’d be nice if someone asked Blashill if Mrazek IS hurt, but it’s playoff time, and he’s extremely unlikely to give a candid answer. Should Brendan Smith finally get back into the lineup? One would think, but most would rather it was at the expense of Jonathan Ericsson sitting rather than Alexey Marchenko, who is still a “development” player and you risk a modicum of collateral damage by scratching him. But think of it this way — Ken Holland and Jeff Blashill had as close to life-and-death playoff-critical games down the stretch the last two weeks. Howard started in net. Smith wasn’t in the lineup. Why was that right then, but wrong now in two games that admittedly were tied 2-2 early in both 3rd periods? Should Pulkkinen play? Should Mantha be recalled from Grand Rapids before the Griffins’ series with Bakersfield begins? Well, YEAH. But again, Mantha shouldn’t have shipped off to the AHL in the first place. He has hands, he has size, he’s the best option (for me) to play on a Red Wings powerplay unit and be impossible to move in front of the net. If the Red Wings’ brass don’t know it as of four days ago, they won’t see the light in time for puckdrop of Game 3, I’m afraid. I’m worried Howard starts and you see Smith in for Marchenko, but I’d only think that’s even a 70-75 percent chance of that.
Thanks for reading! Back for more after Game 3. Enjoy if you’re going, enjoy if you’re watching! I can be reached on twitter at @gbradyradio