Krupa: Mistakes come back to haunt sloppy Wings
Detroit — In an elimination game at home, the mistakes returned.
After playing three of their best quality games in succession to seize control of the series against the Lightning, the Wings looked a lot more like they did throughout March than back in January, Monday.
They were unable to play a fourth consecutive quality game, and it means they must play a Game 7.
Petr Mrazek did what he could. He was, at times, miraculous. And Tomas Tatar's two goals brought the Wings to within a goal in the third period.
But the comeback was shut down by the same things that made it necessary, sloppiness on defense and the failure to pay close attention to the details of their game.
What happened to neat and tidy?
It was fairly obvious almost from the start that the Red Wings were not going to reproduce the fine performances of Games 3, 4 and 5.
The attention to detail that provided for their best three games in a row since the first week of March evaded them.
The defense was not what it had been in their own zone, or through the neutral zone.
Assignments were missed. Line changes were sloppy. They failed to get the puck in deep, when they needed to create time and space.
The forecheck was not at all hard on the Lightning defense, for much of the game.
The neutral zone, which the Wings seemed to have stopped up with a large cork, was free and open, again.
And, at times, they failed to get their deployment sorted out in front of Mrazek, where strong deployment since Game 2 had kept the Lightning shooting from outside, frequently.
What had worked, was suddenly gone.
A first goal
Mrazek and the Wings defense had done a terrific job of deterring the most proficient offense in the NHL during the regular season, until the Red Wings could get the first goal.
But facing elimination after poor play in Game 5 Saturday, the Lightning struck first.
With the Wings milling about and looking on a bit passively, Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman held the puck behind his own net.
It was not there for long.
Hedman's stretch pass two-thirds of the ice came to Nikita Kucherov at the Wings blue line and in what appeared like a classic hook-and-ladder play, Kucherov bumped it slightly to his right onto the stick of a speeding Tyler Johnson.
Johnson, the Wings' nemesis in the series, went by everybody as if he was shot out of a cannon, in on Mrazek.
"We fought to score goals, and we were shut out," Coach Jon Cooper said. "We needed a goal.
"That was big."
Jason Garrison returned to action against the Wings in this series weeks after he was injured when Justin Abdelkader checked him into the end boards during the regular season.
On Monday, moments after Adelkader delivered a thunderous body check to another Lightning player, Garrison secured the payback.
Steven Stamkos and Kucherov traded the puck on a nifty give and go, just as the Wings mounted an awkwardly timed line change.
With some Wings leaving the ice and others coming on, Stamkos then gave the trailing defenseman, Garrison the pass.
Once again, Mrazek had to deal with the Lightning striking at him, without any help.
Garrison made it look easy.
The Red Wings' play deteriorated.
The Lightning were better.
"There was a quiet calm about us," Cooper said. "We were determined.
"I'm not sure we played a better road game all year. It was fun to be part of."
It was especially striking that whether facing elimination, as they did all night, or a raft of penalties, and they committed 11 of them, they Lightning remained calm and controlled.
Mrazek holds them in
After Tatar's two goals, the Wings were in a 3-2 game, just one goal behind, for 13:12
They could thank Mrazek for that.
Two of his stops in the second period were 10-bell saves.
Diving to his right and extending his stick as a paddle, he knocked down a shot by Brian Boyle from 10 feet. It was, once again, an attacker in all alone on Mrazek, with Mrazek scrambling to get into position.
Somehow, he got there.
A short while later, with a good three quarters of the net open to Stamkos, the second-most prolific goal scorer in the NHL this season, Mrazek kicked out his right leg and stopped him, cold.
But, with his mates making mistakes and then chasing the game, the rookie was not enough, in Game 6.