The Detroit Red Wings’ losing streak against Tampa Bay extended to 11 games via a 4-1 loss to the Bolts on Thursday night.
Detroit simply got out-classed by a Lightning team motivated to snap a 2-game losing streak amidst a fierce battle for Atlantic Division supremacy.
The Red Wings…the Wings tried hard, out-shooting the Lightning, but Detroit’s defense couldn’t get a handle on the Bolts’ tremendous lateral passes, and when Nikita Kucherov has 4 points, Victor Hedman has 3 assists, Steven Stamkos scores 2 goals and Andrei Vasilevskiy makes stopping 38 of 39 shots look easy, you’re going to struggle.
As the Lightning discussed their win with the media, Steven Stamkos issued something of an understatement regarding himself, Kucherov and Hedman to TampaBayLightning.com’s Jacob Lynn:
“Usually when the three of us can get on the scoresheet in some way, it’s probably going to end up being good for our team,” Stamkos said.
All three found their way onto said scoresheet early, and often, on Thursday.
By the end of the first period, the trio had already combined for five points: Stamkos with a goal, Kucherov with a goal and an assist and Hedman pitching in with two helpers.
“We had a really good start,” Hedman said. “We had our legs and were executing plays and [were] obviously finishing them off.”
It was the Lightning’s third goal that broke Detroit’s back and showed off the confidence the Bolts were playing with.
On a powerplay late in the second period, Kucherov faked a shot and then slotted a pass to Stamkos through traffic who was waiting at the left circle to give the Bolts a 3-0 lead.
“I had a couple shots and had been missing the net in the second period,” Kucherov said. “…I just saw Stammer wide open and… when I see a guy open I will pass the puck.”
The Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith summarized the Lightning’s win succinctly…
It was one of the Lightning’s more complete recent performances, and the big boys led the way. The Lightning is 11-0-1 this season when Stamkos and Kucherov score. Kucherov had a game-high 14 shot attempts.
“There are certain times in a season when you need your top players to rise to the occasion,” Stamkos said. “And (Thursday) was a good example of that.”
Stamkos gave the Lightning lead for good four minutes into the game with the first of his two goals. Tampa Bay snapped a two-game losing streak with its 11th consecutive regular-season victory over the Red Wings.
The Lightning came out with more jump, and coach Jon Cooper said what he was most proud of was that it had a shutdown third period.
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had allowed four or more goals in eight of his previous 13 starts, had a Vezina Trophy-caliber night with 38 saves. Eighteen came in the first period.
Was this game perfect? No. The Lightning at times still had puck-management issues and turnovers. But this was a solid step in the right direction, increasing Tampa Bay’s Atlantic Division lead to three points over Boston.
Stamkos: “That was a lot more characteristic of the way we know we can play.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper suggested that the Bolts may have fleeced the Wings a couple of times during their 11-game winning streak, and he has no problem with the concept of “being in the Wings’ heads,” as NHL.com’s Corey Long noted…
“Some teams just have a team’s number. Maybe it can get in your head a little bit. It works both ways. But we’ve played them so much over the years and we know each other really well. And there are games in there when they outplayed us but we ended up winning. So, every game hasn’t been indicative of the outcome, but fortunately for us we’ve had the upper hand.” — Lightning coach Jon Cooper on their 11-game winning streak against the Red Wings
And the Bolts’ satisfaction with their victory was matched by Detroit’s frustration with their loss:
Tampa Bay (39-16-3, 81 points) has the best record in the NHL and leads the Boston Bruins by three points for first place in the Atlantic Division.
“We’re just trying to do our best every game and don’t cheat the game,” Kucherov said. “We get rewarded when we play the right way, and that’s what happened today.”
Detroit (23-24-9, 55 points) trails the Carolina Hurricanes by eight points for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
“I thought we’ve been closer, we had two wins and we lose this one,” Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We’re close, we just have to keep getting points and keep winning games. We did a lot of good things here today, but there are things we have to be better at.”
Stamkos gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead 3:55 into the game when he scored with a one-timer from the slot off a pass from Hedman. Kucherov scored on the power play at 7:05 of the first period to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead.
“They are good at taking care of their opportunities,” Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “We had our chances tonight too, but we didn’t capitalize on them. From time to time, we played really good, but we don’t capitalize and they do.”
The Associated Press’s recap will serve as our pivot point between the Lightning and Red Wings’ perspectives:
“There’s certain times in the season where you need your top players to kind of rise to the occasion,” Stamkos said. “Tonight was a good example of that. Usually when we can get on the score sheet, it’s probably going to end up good for our team.”
“We did a lot of good things but there’s things we have to get better at,” Detroit center Henrik Zetterberg said.
Tampa Bay scored twice early on for a 2-0 lead. Stamkos scored from the low right circle off a nice cross-ice pass from Hedman 3:55 into the game before Kucherov got his 31st goal on the power play at 7:05.
“It’s hard when you’re coming from behind,” Zetterberg said.
Kucherov has four goals and 10 points during a five-game point streak.
“Don’t cheat the game and play the right way, and you’ll get rewarded,” said Kucherov, who lead the NHL with 76 points.
The Red Wings expressed their frustration to the Free Press’s Helene St. James:
“I’m bitterly disappointed,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said after the 4-1 final. “Bitterly frustrated, for sure. I walked into this rink expecting to win 100 percent. When we play our best hockey we can beat anybody on any night. I knew we were going to get chances and we got chances and we gave away goals that we didn’t need to, so I’m bitterly disappointed.”
The Wings forechecked, generated shots, and played well overall as five-man units. But they didn’t finish on chances and it was another bad night for special teams, a trend that has grown in the second half after both special teams were good early in the season. Tomas Tatar scored on Detroit’s third power play, but by then Tampa already had scored three times.
“We had plenty of chances to score and we have to do a better job,” Blashill said. “We came out and we had fairly good energy, we get a power play early — you’ve got to score. Instead they turn around and score on the next shift and then they score on their first power play and now you’re digging yourself out of a hole the rest of the game. That’s a tough way to play on the road.”
The Wings go from facing the NHL’s second best power play (24.7 percent) in Tampa to the NHL’s fifth-best power play (22.8 percent) in Nashville. They do so having allowed 16 goals the past 50 times shorthanded.“Now we have problems with everything from entries and seams through us and not getting the blocks from the D. The puck is finding a way to get by us and we have to work hard and dig ourselves out of this.”
“It’s frustrating,” Abdelkader said. “It’s not good enough. You can’t go 0-4 against a division rival. We have to hold up our end. It’s really frustrating. They’re a good team. I don’t see them lightyears better than us. Just, when they get a chance they scoring on their chances and we’re not. We’ve had good games against them and been on the wrong side, but we can’t just keep making excuses. We have to get results.”
“We created a lot of chances, had a lot of offensive zone time,” coach Jeff Blashill said to FSD. “We had to do more on those chances…I’m bitterly disappointed. We’re playing good hockey. (But) we gave away a couple of goals and we have to be better than that.”
Steven Stamkos scored two goals (one a power play), NHL-point leader goal Nikita Kucherov scored a power-play goal and had four points, defenseman Victor Hedman had three assists, and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy won his NHL-leading 34th game.
Kucherov set up Alex Killorn at 1 minute 35 seconds of the third period, giving Tampa a 4-1 lead and negating Tatar’s goal.
And Anthony Mantha’s inability or unwillingness to so much as swat at the Bolts in transition was disturbing in its negligence.
Stamkos opened the game’s scoring with his 22nd goal. Just after a high-sticking penalty to Stamkos expired, the Lightning rushed up the ice and Stamkos, skating in alone down wing, one-timed a pass from Hedman at 3:55.
“They put pressure on you,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson told FSD. “They’re a fast transition team. We have to be aware of that and not give them so much space.”
An Anthony Mantha holding penalty put Tampa on the power play at 5:58 of the first period, further putting the Red Wings in a hole.
It didn’t take the Lightning long to convert. On another rush up the ice, Kucherov snapped his NHL-leading 31st goal, one-timing a drop pass from Vladimir Namestnikov to give the Lighting a 2-0 lead at 7:05.
“They’ve been in a zone all year,” Howard said of the Stamkos and Kucherov combination. “They’re two great players and you have to be aware of them when they’re out there. They worked it well.”
The Red Wings weren’t in a zone by any stretch of the imagination, and while they peppered Vasilevskiy with shots, there was so little traffic in the way of screens, tips or attempts to retrieve rebounds that the Wings gave the Bolts’ goaltender an easy night…
On an evening that they dug a 2-0 hole for themselves, and never climbed out.
Highlights: NHL.com posted a 3:47 highlight clip…
The Red Wings’ website posted a clip of comments from Henrik Zetterberg, Jonathan Ericsson, Jimmy Howard, Tomas Tatar and coach Jeff Blashill:
Photos: The Free Press posted a 17-image gallery;
The Detroit News posted a 10-image gallery;
ESPN posted a 17-image gallery;
Here’s the Game Summary…
And the Event Summary:
The final shots were 39-32 Detroit, but the final attempts were 62-55 Tampa Bay.