Lightning strike on power play, beat Red Wings
Tampa, Florida — Many analysts felt the Tampa Bay Lightning were utterly capable of defending their Eastern Conference championship this season.
But recently they’ve looked like title contenders.
They looked the part Wednesday, defeating the Red Wings 3-1 in the first game after the All-Star break.
The Red Wings allowed two Tampa power-play goals and generally didn’t muster enough offense to keep from falling two points behind the Lightning in the Atlantic Division race.
“Not a lot of chances 5-on-5, both teams played tight,” Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “When you have those types of games, most of the time it ends up in the special teams and they beat us there.
“It’s a big game, two big points and losing points like this against a team in this division, you can’t be that happy.”
The Lightning scored two power-play goals (on three chances), while the Red Wings were scoreless on two power-play attempts.
So the key to this game is easy to decipher.
“We lost the special teams battle 2-0,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “You can’t lose the special teams battle 2-0 and hope to win.”
Gustav Nyquist had the Red Wings goal.
J.T. Brown, Tyler Johnson (power play) and Nikita Kucherov scored for the Lightning, who also received 24 saves from goalie Ben Bishop.
Petr Mrazek made 20 saves for the Red Wings.
“Both teams aren’t giving you much (ice), this is how it’s been all year and it’ll be continue to be,” Blashill said of the tight defensive struggle. “Scoring is hard. Five-on-five it was a bit of a wash, but we have to find a way to win the special teams battle.
“Petr played good. We have to score more than one goal for him.”
The Red Wings had the second-ranked power play in the NHL last season but have slipped to 20th this season.
Nobody can put a finger on a specific reason for the failure this season.
“We’ve using the same things that was a big success for us last year,” Nyquist said. “Obviously we’re not executing enough on it. We just have to get better.”
Johnson has had a disappointing season for Tampa after breaking out in last year’s playoffs, including a particularly strong first-round series against the Red Wings.
But Wednesday Johnson looked very much as he did in that series, using his speed and tenacity to trouble the Red Wings.
Johnson drew a tripping penalty on Pavel Datsyuk at 6:08 of the second period, putting Tampa on the power play.
Just 22 seconds later, Johnson scored his sixth goal of the season, putting the Lightning ahead 2-1.
Kucherov found Johnson open near the right dot, and Johnson slapped a shot into a partially open net, as Mrazek couldn’t get over quick enough post-to-post.
Kucherov extended the lead to 3-1 early in the third period.
Lightning forward Alex Killorn tied up Danny DeKeyser behind the net and forced a turnover.
The puck went behind the net to Ondrej Palat, who found Kucherov cutting to the net. Kucherov beat Mrazek for his 21st goal at 3:23 of the third period.
Brown put the Lightning ahead early in the second period, opening the scoring.
Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn took the puck down the side and backhanded a pass through the crease to Brown at the post.
But the Red Wings countered with Nyquist’s 14th goal.
Tomas Tatar got free down the wing and put the Red Wings in a partial odd-man rush.
Bishop made the save on Tatar’s drive, but the rebound went straight to Nyquist, who was trailing and open, and slammed the puck into the net.
The goal was a relief for Nyquist, who hadn’t scored in five games and only once in the last 16 games.
“It’s always nice to score,” Nyquist said. “I haven’t scored as much as I’ve wanted to lately so it was nice to get one tonight.”