Lightning's 'big guns' strike down Red Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader, left, is taken down by Lightning center Steven Stamkos during the first period on Thursday.

There will be a day the Red Wings finally break through and defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Some day. It has to, right?

The Lightning’s dominance continued Thursday, as Tampa’s big stars led the Lightning to a 4-1 victory over the Red Wings.

BOX SCORE: Lightning 4, Red Wings 1 

A Red Wings’ defeat to Tampa isn’t anything new.

The Lightning have defeated the Red Wings 11 consecutive times, counting regular season and playoffs, beginning with Game 3 of the 2016 playoffs.

The Red Wings haven’t won in Tampa Bay since February 2011, a streak also reaching 11 games.

“Can’t put a finger on it other than their big guns, when we play them, they come to play,” goaltender Jimmy Howard told Fox Sports Detroit after the game.

That was certainly the case in this game.

Thurday’s loss ended a modest three-game (2-0-1) point streak for the Red Wings (23-24-9, 55 points), who trail Carolina by eight points for the final Eastern Conference wild card spot.

Tampa (39-16-3, 81 points) owns the best record in the NHL, and ended a two-game losing streak.

Tomas Tatar (power play) scored for the Red Wings, his 15th goal cutting Tampa’s lead to 3-1 late in the second period, and goaltender Jimmy Howard stopped 28 shots against Tampa’s powerful offense.

But it wasn’t nearly enough against a Lightning team, whose star players were its best players.

“We created a lot of chances, had a lot of offensive zone time,” coach Jeff Blashill said to FSD. “We had to do more on those chances…I’m bitterly disappointed. We’re playing good hockey. (But) we gave away a couple of goals and we have to be better than that.”

Steven Stamkos scored two goals (one a power play), NHL-point leader goal Nikita Kucherov scored a power-play goal and had four points, defenseman Victor Hedman had three assists, and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy won his NHL-leading 34th game.

Kucherov set up Alex Killorn at 1 minute 35 seconds of the third period, giving Tampa a 4-1 lead and negating Tatar’s goal.

Stamkos opened the game’s scoring with his 22nd goal.

Just after a high-sticking penalty to Stamkos expired, the Lightning rushed up the ice and Stamkos, skating in alone down wing, one-timed a pass from Hedman at 3:55.

“They put pressure on you,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson told FSD. “They’re a fast transition team. We have to be aware of that and not give them so much space.”

An Anthony Mantha holding penalty put Tampa on the power play at 5:58 of the first period, further putting the Red Wings in a hole.

It didn’t take the Lightning long to convert. On another rush up the ice, Kucherov snapped his NHL-leading 31st goal, one-timing a drop pass from Vladimir Namestnikov to give the Lighting a 2-0 lead at 7:05.

“They’ve been in a zone all year,” Howard said of the Stamkos and Kucherov combination. “They’re two great players and you have to be aware of them when they’re out there. They worked it well.”

Tampa had control of the game, and wouldn’t give it up.

In other observations from Thursday’s game:

■ The Red Wings were without forward Andreas Athanasiou (ill).

Into the lineup entered David Booth, who played sparingly on the fourth line.

Athanasiou is considered day-to-day, but should be ready for Saturday’s game in Nashville.

■ Blashill went back to Howard, who won games against Washington and Anaheim, preceding this game.

Tampa got to Howard twice early, with the Stamkos and Kucherov goals but Howard had no chance on either.

Howard stopped Kucherov, the league’s top goal-scorer, on a breakaway early in the second period, then had no chance again on Stamkos’ power-play goal, as talented offensive players made an eye-opening play.

■ The penalty kill again had a prime scoring opportunity.

Dylan Larkin and Trevor Daley took off on a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush late in the second period, and forced Vasilevskiy (38 saves) to make a fine save.