Wings Postgame: Change can be a Good Thing

There’s been a lot of talk about lines lately. Some were upset when Mantha was sent back down. Others thought maybe Mrazek would have been the smarter choice down the stretch despite his terrible March. Some were left scratching their heads as the defensive play of the team crumbled and Smith was the guy getting scratched. Tonight though, all our wishes seemed to have come true.

Mrazek was in, challenging shooters out at what seemed like the hash marks. Smith started his first shift with a crushing hit on Tampa’s resident pest, Cedric Paquette, effectively shutting that guy down for the remainder of the game. I think it took only a few shifts for everyone to feel like this one felt a little different. 

One more time just to make you feel good:

FIRST PERIOD

I think what everyone noticed right away was the new line combinations. The Euro Twins were broken up and rightly so. Tons of talent for sure, but that’s a slow line and they were getting burned in games one and two. Credit where credit is due, although at times his been a stickler with certain players, Blashill made the smartest move of this series yet and spread out the speed. Every single line had a guy who could skate and we saw it nearly every shift in the first as the Wings applied constant pressure. Now, I was highly critical of the play of Nyquist and Tatar in games one and two, but what a difference they made when they were split up. We saw Nyquist skating on the top line with Zetterberg and Larkin while Tatar seemed to find some great chemistry with Anthanasiou on a line anchored by Andersson. Detroit definitely had the calls going their way but they just couldn’t convert. We’ve seen some bad power play attempts for the Wings this season but I didn’t feel like that was the case tonight. They were getting shots and actually making decent zone entries but they just couldn’t get it to go. One of these power plays included nearly a minute of five on three time that saw both Palat and Johnson in the box (this will be an important theme tonight) but Detroit failed to convert. They got lucky here no doubt. You absolutely have to convert on an opportunity like that during the playoffs. That could have been a potentially huge momentum shifter for Tampa. An important takeaway though was that penalties were coming because the Wings were actually skating. The period ended 0-0 and we saw one of the best first periods Detroit has put together in months.

SECOND PERIOD

Getting a full sixty minutes out of this team has been a concern all season. Even after such a great start I’m sure we all felt the butterflies when the teams skated out for the second. Detroit came out ready to play and took to dictating the pace early. So much of this series they’ve been chasing the Bolts both on the ice and on the scoreboard. Detroit just came out and started playing their game. They were fast, they were driving the net and most importantly, they were getting in everyone’s face. They were pests, they were doing all the little things Tampa did in games one and two, only better. Tatar, Andersson and Anthanasiou came out flying and off their hardwork and relentless forecheck we had ourselves another big goal from Detroit’s depth:

No one on Tampa knew who their man was, guys were cycling in and out and the speed of those three just overwhelmed Tampa in their own zone. Props to AA for getting that shot off on a rolling puck like that. 

Another important improvement for the Wings this game: they never sat back. Relentless is the best word I can think of. They finished checks, they started taking smarter shots on Bishop (a huge concern in games one and two) and it frustrated the Bolts to no end. We saw Sustr and Hedman head to the box on bad stick penalties where they found themselves out of position or chasing guys in their own end. 

The way this series started I thought I was maybe never going to see it happen, but then it came to us, like a gift from the heavens. Zetterberg kicked the monkey off his back and finally put one in the net. It was ugly for sure, but that’s what I loved so much about it. Let’s take a quick peek:

Now this goal saw two separate reviews and managed to survive them both. So not only did our captain get on the scoresheet finally, he stole Tampa’s timeout. Take a look when that puck finally goes in the net. That’s three Red Wings in or around the crease. Nyqvist basically finishes further in the net than the puck actually got. This is what we haven’t seen yet in this series. We know Tampa’s defence are massive and intimidating but it’s like everyone finally got over it tonight. That’s how goals come about in the playoffs, especially when you’re shooting on a goalie the size of a small pickup truck. The Wings would close out the period up 2-0 and still flying. 

THIRD PERIOD

Detroit started the third shorthanded after a Zetterberg interference penalty late in the second. Thankfully,  less than a minute in Helm managed to take Kucherov, arguably the most dangerous player in the series thus far, to the box with him for two minutes. Kucherov for Helm? I’ll take that all night. Detroit’s penalty kill was top notch this evening. Glendening was a face-off and defensive powerhouse all night. It’s undeniable the difference being back at home and having that last change. 

Another fan favourite change was helping Blash look even better tonight as Mrazek continued to stand tall. Although a less active night for him, facing only sixteen shots, he made the saves when it counted and he kept his team confident. His mobility is what makes him such a great goaltender and it was on full display. Side-to-side, challenging shooters, he was the goalie again we saw at the beginning of the year. 

Anytime Tampa Bay started to get some good looks or substantial zone time, Detroit countered so nicely. They were absorbing the space around the Lightning players and suffocating them. We saw the frustration as Johnson went to the box yet again on a lazy offensive zone stick penalty, drawn by none other than Brendan Smith. Tampa made another successful kill but found themselves taking an offensive zone penalty again, as this time Killorn heads to the box, completing a two minute time out for everyone on the new Triplets line. While I love seeing the frustration in Tampa’s game, this power play needs to start converting. You’ll only get so many chances in a series like this and they have to start making them count. 

The last three minutes of this game were a personal favourite of mine. Tampa pulled Bishop early in an attempt to tie this game. This is a dangerous team at all times and I think the feeling for everyone with 2:30 remaining was that this isn’t over yet. That was until Brendan Smith stepped back onto the ice. He went to war in front of the net with Coburn and he took some punishment. Slashes, an elbow, some more whacks and yet he refused to back down. Eventually Coburn lost his cool and took a penalty on the play, thus effectively ending any hopes they had of getting back into this game. 

It wouldn’t be a Tampa/Detroit playoff game though if it didn’t end in a scrum of some sort. The Bolts took a run at Zetterberg that triggered the landslide. Who was the first guy in there ready to drop the gloves? Brendan Smith. He got right in there and grabbed 6’6″ Victor Hedman, a regular in these scrums who likes popping shots on restrained Red Wings, and goated him to fight. Were they likely going to start swinging? No way, but the fact Smith got in there shows his commitment to this team and the game they’re playing. He’s working his ass off to secure his position on this roster and I have nothing but respect for him tonight. We should note Abdelkader had a standoff with a much larger Brian Boyle but Abdelkader refused to engage. Abdelkader motioned to a bandaged hand and Boyle skated off doing the chicken dance, obviously upset at his lack of chance for revenge:

That one is fine with me, Abdelkader has them more worried about what they’re going to do to him than playing hockey. Keep it up Abby. Quick note: Blunden was a bit of a ghost tonight wasn’t he? Hmmm. 

THE STATS

Damn, that looks good:

chart-4

MOTOR CITY MVP

I love that the Wings were able to counter with a complete game which included getting dirty in all three zones. The penalty list from Tampa: Coburn x2, Johnson x2, Palat, Sustr, Hedman, Kucherov and Killorn. Whatever Detroit is doing, it is certainly working. They got to Tampa’s best players tonight and they capitalized when it counted. Undeniably, this one goes to Brendan Smith. He set the tone on his very first shift and he didn’t let up even once. He was drawing penalties, causing chaos and playing hard. The difference in our defence when we have one more guy who can skate and move the puck is incredible. Shoutout as well to Mrazek on another playoff shutout, but Smith was the real difference tonight. 

UP NEXT

Tuesday Detroit has an opportunity to send this one back to Tampa tied at two. We’ll see which team shows up.