Wojo: Disciplined Wings respond with gut-check victory

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
Detroit center Darren Helm checks Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman in the first period.

Tampa, Fla. — They took a staggering gut punch and responded with a gut check. The Red Wings went from reeling to wheeling in a hurry, regaining control barely 48 hours after they'd seemingly lost it.

This was professional poise, displayed with stunning precision. It was a terrific rebound in every way, as the Wings returned to their smothering ways, unplugging the Lightning 4-0 Saturday night to take a 3-2 series lead.

The Wings didn't just weather the (Lightning) storm, they made the Lightning look like Lightweights. In one 20-minute stretch, Tampa Bay didn't register a shot on net, and when it finally did, Petr Mrazek was sprawling and stopping everything. Mike Babcock had told his players to forget Game 4 and remember how well they'd played before the late collapse.

Remember it? They revived it with tight-checking defense, better discipline and another great game by Mrazek. Luke Glendening was back after slicing his right hand late in the previous game, which precipitated Tampa Bay's rally from a 2-0 deficit to a 3-2 overtime victory. And here Glendening was, racing down the right side late in the second period, firing a shot that handcuffed Ben Bishop. The goalie couldn't kick it away and Drew Miller pounced on the easy rebound for a 2-0 lead.

Game 6 is Monday night in Detroit, and like we said after the last clash, this series could spin wildly again. The teams have traded wins and losses but this was the Wings' best performance. If they finish it off, it would be a classic case of an experienced underdog showing a few old (and new) tricks to a favored upstart.

No collapse this time

The first two games in Tampa looked like wipeouts, with the Wings outshot 46-14 in their first victory. That seems a long time ago, as the Wings have gotten better while the Lightning have lapsed into stretches of listlessness. That's two shutouts in three games for Mrazek against the highest-scoring team in the league, and leading scorer Steven Stamkos still can't find his first goal amid all the traffic.

"We have veteran leadership, and we just tightened it up," Miller said. "The last game, something happened we weren't very proud of, but it's not something we were like, oh no, here we go again, 2-0 with five minutes left. We know we're capable of playing a certain way, and we just went out and played that way."

The calmness was apparent. There was a cleansing symmetry to this one, and as the Wings took a 2-0 lead deep into the third period, you know everyone watching back in Detroit was fidgeting. No way could they squander another lead in the final five-and-a-half minutes, right?

No way. As the clock ticked below five minutes, Pavel Datsyuk fired in a power-play goal for a 3-0 lead, and room to breathe. The Wings mostly dominated territorially from late in the first period, when Riley Sheahan scored on the power play off a nifty pass from Niklas Kronwall.

Glendening's return certainly helped, and so did the tenacious defense of Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson. Disciplined forechecking kept the Lightning bottled up, limited to three power plays.

"I don't know that there's a big difference," Glendening said. "Maybe we're getting a little more comfortable playing. Obviously they're a great team, and every night is a new battle. Every night we have to pack our lunch."

Harnessing the Lightning

Asked how difficult it was to be getting stitches during the Game 4 collapse, Glendening grimaced.

"It was hard, there are no real words to describe it, that's for sure," he said. "I felt it every once in a while (Saturday night), but when the adrenaline gets going, it's not too bad."

The adrenaline and deep breathing will get going again in Game 6 because that's how the series has gone. But this was such a sound effort by the Wings, they've earned control, and should relish the right to finish it off.

It's amazing that Tampa Bay could be so productive during the regular season and now so confounded by Mrazek and Detroit's defense. Then again, maybe it's not so amazing, because the Lightning aren't the first flashy offense to be stymied in the playoffs.

"Obviously I want to produce, and it's not for lack of effort," Stamkos said. "In fact, I'm working my butt off out there, it's just not going like I want it. Obviously, I want to help our team win. No one else is feeling sorry for us or myself."

Nope, just as no one was feeling sorry for the Wings after the last game. That loss was devastating but not debilitating, and the Wings knew it. They knew it as soon as they hopped on their plane to Tampa, and Babcock stressed how well they played for 55 minutes.

The Wings weren't fooled by one late-game stumble, and maybe the Lightning were.

"Obviously we didn't play as good as we wanted in games 1 and 2, but 3, 4 and this one, we've been taking a step each game," captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "We played probably our best game (in the last loss), for 55 minutes. We knew if we played a similar game, we'd have a good chance."

The Wings weren't finished before, and there's a chance the Lightning aren't finished now. But this was such an impressive response by the Wings, it's clear it'll take more than a five-minute flurry to beat them.