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Tampa, Fla. – The Red Wings hoped forward Tomas Tatar would take a step forward in his career development this season.

But it didn’t happen. Tatar scored 21 goals – he had 29 last season – and struggling to maintain any consistency, particularly the second half of the season.

Coach Jeff Blashill dropped Tatar down to the fourth line with Joakim Andersson and Andreas Athanasiou for Games 4 and 5 in the Wings’ playoff series against the Lightning.

“It doesn’t matter who is playing where,” said Tatar, who is leading the Red Wings in scoring this series with three points (all assists), but has only four shots on net. “You just try to bring energy, make something happen and give guys a lift, get something going.”

Could the lack of consistency among his linemates been a reason for Tatar’s offensive struggles this season? Coach Jeff Blashill juggles his lines frequently when they stall, and Tatar has played with a variety of linemates.

“I feel the whole season I was in different positions than last year,” Tatar said. “It’s a little tougher to produce.”

Blashill noted Tatar had several good scoring opportunities in the middle two games at Joe Louis Arena but didn’t convert.

“Just missed the net,” Blashill said. “He’s had opportunities.”

Not his fault

Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson has become a lightning rod for criticism among many Red Wings fans this season, and particularly in the playoffs.

Ericsson’s crosschecking penalty, which led to Tampa Bay’s winning power-play goal late in Game 4, certainly didn’t silence the criticism.

But Blashill worked to put the glare of criticism away from Ericsson before Game 5.

“Sometimes, like the penalty the other night, he sometimes gets blamed for things that aren’t necessarily his fault,” Blashill said. “Actually, another player lost his coverage and he (Ericsson) had to make up for it.

“So, sometimes when you’re just sitting in the stands you might not understand which guys are whose, so he gets blamed for some of that.”

Ericsson struggled with consistency during the regular season and didn’t effectively use his 6-foot-4, 220-pound body physically.

“Ericsson, when he is playing his best, he’s using his big, huge frame and his skating ability to close gaps to not give too much space,” Blashill said. “He does a real good job when he’s playing his best and managing the puck. He’s a big, hard physical presence that keeps guys away from the net, so that’s what we need from him.”

Blashill acknowledged the inconsistency Ericsson showed this season.

“He’s had moments of good, moments of where he’s got to be better, probably like a lot of our team,” Blashill said. “We all strive for perfection (but) we understand you’re not going to be perfect.”

No changes

Blashill stayed with the same lineup that he used in Game 4.

Defenseman Alexey Marchenko, who played the first three games of the series, didn’t play in Games 4 or 5, the effects of crashing into the boards in Game 3 still lingering.

Marchenko needed 12 stitches to close a cut in his forehead.

Marchenko took part in Thursday’s morning skate, but Blashill said the defenseman wasn’t ready to play.

Ice chips

Forward Jonathan Franzen was in attendance for Game 5, flying in for the game along with his son. Franzen has been struggling with concussion symptoms since October.

… Defenseman Xavier Ouellet, who was recalled Wednesday from minor league affiliate Grand Rapids, was reassigned back to the Griffins. Ouellet was promoted from the Griffins in case there was an injury or illness on defense.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tkulfan

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