Detroit — Energy is a wonderful thing, producing intense heat when used properly. The Red Wings uncapped the energy and applied the heat, and with legs fully churning, they fired back.
Maybe it was the boisterous home crowd, or the cool confidence of goalie Petr Mrazek, or the return of feisty Justin Abdelkader. But the Wings were thoroughly renewed Tuesday night, beating the Lightning 3-0 to take a 2-1 series lead. This is playoff hockey, where everything can change at the drop of a puck, and the Wings turned it back around.
It was an inspired response to danger, in case anyone wondered if they still could do it. The Wings were lit from the start, and in the third period, the noise in the old arena reverberated like it hasn't in a while. When Mrazek stuffed Brian Boyle on a short-handed breakaway, the crowd roared and the chant echoed, "Petr! Petr!"
Not your normal playoff chant around here, but this is not your normal series. And yes, Mrazek is outplaying the Lightning's Ben Bishop, exactly what the Wings need. They rebounded after getting outskated in Tampa and did what they had to do —take the puck straight to the net. The clinching goal was a power-play beauty, with Abdelakder charging and slipping a pass to Riley Sheahan, who was right on top of Bishop and tucked the puck in.
Pavel Datsyuk did the same thing for the game's first goal, heading to the net where the puck caromed off his leg. It was a tight-checking contest and Mrazek only had to make 22 saves, but he was tremendous when necessary, and fortunate a few times too. The Lightning stuck with the Wings most of the game, and I have a feeling this series isn't done twisting and turning.
No place like home
The Wings have to cut down on the penalties and should expect a solid response from Tampa Bay. But after the first two lackluster games, this was impressive.
"We knew we were way better than our games in Tampa Bay," said Sheahan, who scored his first NHL playoff goal. "We were looking forward to being back in our home rink, and the fans did an unbelievable job getting us going. We were just skating, our feet were moving. We kind of got a little flat-footed the last game."
If something was going to happen for the Wings, this was where it had to start, inside the Joe, in the cluttered areas in front of the goalies. The Wings had to show more and show it quickly, and they did. Barely a minute in, Darren Helm raced to the net and flipped a shot that caromed off Bishop's right arm, then off the goal post. It wasn't a goal, but it made a point.
The point is, the Wings couldn't sit back, not at home, not against such a quick foe. Tampa Bay outshot Detroit 76-38 in the first two games, and the only reason the series was 1-1 was Mrazek's Game 1 mastery. The Wings weren't good in Tampa, but they couldn't possibly be sluggish at home, could they?
Nope. They chased hard after pucks and were determined to jolt the Bolts. The Wings outhit them 48-26 and took the early lead because their best player led the way. Datsyuk carried the puck from his own end, flipped it to Tomas Tatar, then raced toward the net. Tatar's shot bounced off Datsyuk's leg and past Bishop, and the Wings were rewarded for doing what you're supposed to do in the playoffs — move your legs like you mean it.
"I thought we skated and looked like a real hockey team," coach Mike Babcock said. "I didn't think we had the physical play (the first two games). Good for our team and good for our fans."
Abdelkader and Brendan Smith were back in the lineup, banging enemy bodies, providing the impact the Wings were seeking. The Lightning were trying to do the same, and after the Wings' initial burst, the game shifted. Mrazek and Bishop took turns turning away chances and both were helped by a little iron — the goalposts and the crossbars.
The stirring sequence came in the second period, when the Wings had to kill a power play, including a 5-on-3 for 56 seconds. They did it, barely. Victor Hedman fired a shot past Mrazek, but off the post. Tyler Johnson fired a shot past Mrazek, but off the crossbar. Later in the period, Niklas Kronwall hooked Alex Killorn on a breakaway and narrowly avoided being called for a penalty shot.
"If I look at the big picture of this, I don't think we've been outplayed in any of the games," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "They had an extremely fortunate bounce on their first goal. We didn't get the bounces."
Hmm. Did the Wings get some puck luck? Sure. But it's a short distance from puck luck to pluck, and Mrazek was in position to make saves. Puck luck or potluck, the Wings were using a bit of everything, clinging to that 1-0 lead.
They welcomed back Abdelkader after he missed two games with a hand injury, and his presence was instantly notable. Cooper had called Abdelkader "the straw that stirs the drink for them in many ways," although he's probably more hammer than straw.
In the third period, Tampa Bay's Cedric Paquette ran into Mrazek and was immediately greeted by an angry Abdelkader, who drew a roughing penalty.
"I saw that play and I thought it was really dirty and there was no need for it, so I took offense to it," Abdelkader said. "I think Petr did a great job in net. We played really well in front of him."
The Wings didn't dominate, but they didn't suffer a rash of gaffes, either. The first period was their best of the series, and then they buckled up and hung on. What happens next is impossible to predict but at least we know the Wings aren't going away, and when challenged, still are capable of bringing the heat.