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Niyo: Glendening making a home with the Red Wings

John Niyo
The Detroit News
Detroit’s Luke Glendening celebrates his third-period goal Thursday night.

Brandon, Fla. — It doesn't add up.

Not the minutes, and certainly not in these moments. Even Mike Babcock will tell you that, glancing at a scoresheet and finding his fourth-line center with the fourth-most ice time of any of his forwards in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Then again, Luke Glendening's ever-expanding role with this Red Wings team is pretty self-explanatory. The coach trusts him, almost unconditionally.

And while that might not make much sense to some, there's little sense in arguing at the moment. Not after Glendening played a starring role in his team's series-opening win Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Glendening, a grinder who began this season with one career NHL goal, scored the winner in Game 1 at Amalie Arena, a spinning backhander on a shorthanded rush — a rush he'd started by forcing a turnover and clearing the zone with a pass to himself up the boards. The play gave his team a two-goal lead early in the third period, and the fancy finish only added to the growing legend of Cool Backhand Luke, who seemingly knows no other way to score.

"I was just out of gas, actually," said Glendening, who has scored "probably 75 percent" of his goals on the backhand, roommate Riley Sheahan estimates. "I didn't have enough speed to get to the net there. So I figured if I turned back, I might have a chance."

He did, and he made it count, with a little help from Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who hesitated and ultimately lost, giving up the five-hole goal that proved to be the winner after a frantic third period.

The Red Wings spent more than 10 minutes of Thursday's game shorthanded, giving Tampa Bay — the league's highest-scoring team in the regular season — seven power plays, including three full two-minute advantages in the third period.

The Wings didn't like a couple of those calls. And Babcock hated what they did to his bench, forcing scorers to sit idly by while his penalty-killers — specifically Glendening and fourth-line mate Drew Miller — were forced to work overtime.

"When you're shorthanded seven times, their best players are getting to feel the puck and they're getting momentum out of it, whether they score or not," Babcock said. "And you're wearing out your people.

"I don't need to see Glennie and Millsie going over the boards as much as they did last night to kill penalties. To me, that's a waste of energy. I'd rather be wearing on the other team in the offensive zone."

Effort unparalleled

And presumably he'd rather be giving more minutes to his other scoring line, featuring Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar. But those two played 11:07 and 12:37, respectively, finishing with two shots combined in Game 1.

Glendening, meanwhile, was on the ice for 18 minutes, including 6:25 of shorthanded time. Pavel Datsyuk played just 2 seconds more, and Henrik Zetterberg only 39 seconds more, for the entire game.

"To be honest, I don't really pay attention," Glendening shrugged. "I'm just happy we won. And whether I play five minutes or 18 minutes, I just want to do my part."

Can't argue with that. And you certainly can't argue with the effort. Because Glendening, an undrafted player who spent four years playing at Michigan before signing with Grand Rapids in 2012, gives it his all, and then some.

A plus in every way

Babcock saw that firsthand during the NHL lockout in 2012, scouting the AHL games and taking note of Glendening's "compete level." And after the East Grand Rapids native worked his way into a bigger role for Griffins coach Jeff Blashill during that team's run to a Calder Cup title in 2013 — checking some of the same top-line players (Tyler Johnson, for one) that he's chasing in this series — he found a home in Detroit.

"It's about finding ways to contribute when you're out there," Babcock said. "And Glennie is an ultra-competitive guy who can drag his teammates into battle just by how hard he competes. He's a real plus for our hockey team. And the more guys like that you can have on your team, the better chance you have to have success."

Thursday, he was a plus-player in every way, scoring a goal and leading the Red Wings in both shots on goal and blocked shots, with three apiece. Throw in Tampa Bay's 0-fer on the power play, and it was as complete a game as you could hope, especially from a guy who two years ago was playing in the ECHL.

"I don't know if you can put it into words how much he means to this club," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "The work that he puts in, the effort that he puts in, on and off the ice. He's becoming a huge part of our team."

Maybe too big, I suppose. But when the Wings are playing like this — winning in spite of themselves — who's counting?

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

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