Detroit — It can change that quickly in the playoffs, like a bolt from nowhere. The Red Wings were looking impenetrable and the Lightning were looking lost, and time was running out. Then came a break and a flurry of mistakes, and the Wings went from cruising to absolutely crushed.
The Wings had it and lost it, and you can say it about the game and perhaps the series. The Lightning rallied with three goals in the final six minutes of regulation and overtime for a stunning 3-2 victory Thursday night that knotted the series at 2.
It was a devastating shift for Detroit as its leaky defense reappeared, just as Tampa Bay's league-best offense did the same. Tyler Johnson scored the winner 2:25 into overtime on a furious rush that Petr Mrazek had no chance to stop. Johnson scored twice, and it all happened after Luke Glendening, the Wings' highly effective checking center, left with an injured right hand.
It was as if Johnson and his high-flying linemates were freed and the Wings were powerless to react. Mike Babcock questioned the cause of Glendening's injury — "I thought we should've been going on the power play" — but that's where the lamenting ended. The Wings played well while grabbing a 2-0 lead, then struck misfortune and got rattled.
"I thought we played a good game, did lots of good things," Babcock said. "In the end, we made some mistakes and they capitalized on each one of them. They hadn't gotten much done, to be honest with you. I thought they stole the game like we stole Game 1."
Slice of fate
Once the Lightning finally beat Mrazek, the seal was broken. One moment, the Wings were loosening the Lightning's bolts, beating them into frustration. On one end, there was Mrazek, coolly making saves. On the other end, there was Ben Bishop, swatting at air, serenaded sarcastically by the crowd.
Moments are fleeting in the playoffs, and with the Wings seemingly headed to victory, the Lightning struck, well, like lightning. Johnson and Ondrej Palat scored in a span of 1:17 to tie it.
"It was 2-0 and we weren't getting chances, but there was a really positive vibe on the bench," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "I think we'd gone probably eight periods without scoring a goal in this building, but as soon as we got that one, we grew a couple inches on the bench. It was like a weight off our shoulders, and clearly the game changed at that moment. You could just tell our guys had a fire in them that was not going to be put out."
Now that it's on, the weight transfers back to the Wings, who were less than six minutes from transforming from heavy underdog to heavy favorite with a 3-1 series lead. They had the Lightning flailing at ghosts and posts, at imaginary pucks and real rubber ones. This was the only way they could turn it around after two rough games in Tampa — with more defense and fewer mistakes.
They were doing it, and then Glendening's hand got sliced and the Wings got diced. Should one guy have that much of an impact on defensive responsibility? Probably not, but we've seen these inexplicable scattered stretches from the Wings before.
"It's frustrating because we played a good game, but in the end we came up short and we have to come back," Glendening said. "It was disappointing not to be able to finish. Nothing too serious (with the hand), it's good."
He wasn't the only one to experience a sudden shift of fortune. Bishop committed a blunder that could've sealed the game, but didn't. Late in the second period, Joakim Andersson ripped a shot that bounced high off the goalie. Bishop looked up as if the puck were a butterfly, and wildly swung his stick. He hit it, then watched as the puck bounced behind him, dribbled toward the red line and nudged across for a 2-0 Detroit lead.
This series changed when the first puck was dropped at the Joe, then turned back in the closing moments Thursday night. It can change just as quickly in Tampa, and Babcock made that point afterward. If each team "stole" a game, perhaps 2-2 is where it should be.
"I hardly ever talk to our guys after games, but I talked to them just about that," Babcock said. "We can feel sorry for ourselves on the flight to Tampa, then let's get up and get regrouped. I thought we had them in big-time trouble, and for whatever reason, when we lost Glenny, they got energy and we didn't."
Tension and release
After the 3-0 victory in Game 3, Babcock reminded his team that Tampa Bay would be more desperate, and it was. The Wings matched the antagonism in the opening 90 seconds, when Brendan Smith eagerly scrapped with the Lightning's Ryan Callahan.
In a series, the only thing that carries over from game to game is the tension. It ratchets as players become more familiar with each other and more inclined to dislodge each other's molars. In Game 4, the chippiness popped up quickly, and so did the Lightning's frustration.
Tampa Bay wasn't used to this, the tight checking and the zeroes on the scoreboard. The Lightning were the highest-scoring team in the NHL but roles reversed for about 55 minutes. The Wings no longer looked like the underdog when Gustav Nyquist tapped in a perfect pass from Henrik Zetterberg in the second period to go on top 1-0.
This was the trend the Wings craved. They shut out the Lightning 3-0 in the last game. They shut 'em out 4-0 in their last regular-season meeting at the Joe. Captain Steven Stamkos is Tampa Bay's leading scorer, which earned him the right to be shadowed by Pavel Datsyuk. Stamkos doesn't have a goal in the series, and for most of the game, the Wings were clamping down.
Bishop's misplay of Andersson's shot appeared to be the game-changer, until the fateful final minutes. Suddenly, it was the Wings who were rattled, hanging on. Back and forth it went, back and forth it goes, another series where gaining control is one thing, but keeping control is the tough thing. The Wings had it and lost it, and regaining it won't be easy.