You’ve probably seen clips of the ‘brawl’ by now. Emotions running high, frustration getting the best of a team and the game ends with a classic line scrum. Not even a real brawl but some blood was shed. Well, at least one guy lost a little blood but let’s take a look at the whole play:
So the general consensus is Abdelkader lost his cool. We can guess how Lightning fans feel about it and many Wings fans upset were with Abdelkader.
But perhaps we’re not understanding the situation correctly and we’re too quickly to judge the situation without looking at the broader picture.
I understand some of the frustration with the guy, this penalty alone was brutal, uncalled for and led directly to a Lightning goal:
— Stefan Kubus (@StefanKubus) April 16, 2016
Alright, put the guy in the doghouse for sure. That was plain stupid. But Abdelkader’s hard play and goal in the second period seems to get overlooked by all his critics this game.
2-1 Red Wings now. Goal credited to Abdelkader. pic.twitter.com/YnWxLOquTI
— Kyle WIIM (@KyleWIIM) April 14, 2016
So Abdelkader was running a little hot in this game for some and I get it, when things go south fans look for a scapegoat. He’s obviously an easy one. Take his new contract which is easy to get sour about, add in that penalty and (for some reason) blame him for the top line’s lack of scoring and you’ve got a pretty good fall guy to really beat on for being down 2-0 in this series.
Why am I all right then with how this unfolded? Because it’s nice to know someone out there still gives a shit. The Lightning have been taking liberties on key players all series. Larkin is constantly harassed and hounded by a team of Paquette, Blunden, Callahan and Drouin. This is nothing new, it’s nothing unexpected, obviously this was going to happen. Larkin is the biggest threat in this series and he’s getting more attention because he isn’t backing down. This is true even despite being bottom-five each game when it comes to ice time. I love the tilts he’s having with Drouin. That’s an equal matchup, a fair fight if it came to blows, and an equal loss should they both head to the box. Skating by though, as the other three take their liberties on a smaller, more skilled player is simply unforgivable in the playoffs. The Lightning are coming at the Wings hard from every angle. They’re better skaters, they’ve got more talent and they’re playing like a single unit. That includes defending their line mates and holding people accountable.
This is the same thing that happened in 2014 playoffs against Boston. The Wings were pushed around all series, no one stepped up and entire troves of forwards turned into ghosts. Sadly, it always seems to be the same guys. Zetterberg has possession numbers below 50% over the two games and the Lightning have shut down that top line successfully thus far. Tatar and Nyquist have been getting some of the easiest assignments and match ups and have combined for a lowly single even-strength point. If you could no-look-backhand-one-touch-pass the puck into the net I’m sure they’d be leading the league in scoring but sadly, that’s not quite the way things work. They’re doing a decent job of possessing the puck but they aren’t doing anything with it. This is evident not only on the score sheet, but how much less off-puck attention they’re getting compared to Larkin. They’re easy to play against right now.
If we go back to the two-minute mark if that video it’s easy to see why Abdelkader did what he did; Brad Richards is getting jumped by two guys. Both Nesterov and Sustr jump Richards and start going to town. Abdelkader is the first guy in there, without hesitation, to help his teammate. He grabs any and every blue jersey he can find and starts going to work. Props to Mike Green on the veteran chaos-slam to keep the scrum escalating and happy to see Marchenko get in there too and find a dance partner. Your teammate is outnumbered and getting unloaded upon, I would hope everyone on that bench would have jumped in there like that.
So when I see Abdelkader finishing every check, standing up for his teammates and sometimes crossing the line, I’m not sure fans should be super upset with it. Do you want him going out there trying to make every fourth liner swallow his teeth? Certainly not. But you should like that Tampa Bay keeps their heads up when he’s on the ice. You should like that the defence rushes that first pass when they see him coming. You should like the idea that maybe Blunden or Paquette thinks twice next game before taking their three obligatory whacks across Larkin’s hands every time he touches the puck.
The Wings likely aren’t going to win this series playing a straight game; there isn’t a single argument for Detroit being a better team at any position in this matchup. The Lightning are playing the dirty game too now and it’s just another facet of this series Detroit is falling behind in.
I agree with most of the Wings fan base, I hope there are some big changes today. I think Mrazek playing the next game is a good idea. I like the idea that Smith is going to draw into the lineup, another guy not afraid to get his hands dirty.
I just disagree when it comes to Justin Abdelkader. I hope maybe he thinks twice about going to the box without taking someone else with him but I hope he comes to play with that same intensity. I don’t feel like it’s his game that needs the drastic overhaul, I think there are about ten players ahead of him who should be seriously thinking about how they want to play the rest of this series. There was some speculation that Abdelkader might face a suspension on the play but as of now it looks like the league will not be looking into it and he’ll be playing game three. If you’re not in trouble until you lose a game at home then maybe Detroit still has a chance in this. Maybe we look back on this scrum like we look back on another infamous Abdelkader playoff altercation, as a big shift in a series that seemed insurmountable.