Red Wings cough up two-goal lead in third period, lose to Lightning

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — For about two periods Thursday, the Red Wings were about to win a game they weren’t expected or supposed to, and really upset any fans looking for better draft odds.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov celebrates his goal against the Detroit Red Wings in the third period.

They were defeating the NHL's best team, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Then, reality hit.

Tampa scored four times in the third period and rallied to defeat the Red Wings 5-4.

Don’t worry, Jack Hughes fans. The Wings still have a good chance of drafting the offensive wizard.

BOX SCORE: Lightning 5, Red Wings 4

“We just have to be better,” said Darren Helm, who scored a shorthanded goal for the Wings. “But that’s a real good hockey team. We can’t give them opportunities and we gave them too many and they scored.”

Tampa’s most valuable player candidate Nikita Kucherov (two goals, two assists Thursday) scored a power-play goal at 8:24 of the third period, tying the score at 3, then Tyler Johnson scored 36 seconds later to break the tie.

Johnson got position in front of the crease and deflected Erik Cernak's point shot past goaltender Jimmy Howard for his 25th goal.

Kucherov, for good measure added his 35th goal at 16:38, from Brayden Point, to make it 5-3 and send what had been a hopeful crowd home deflated, although Michael Rasmussen cut the deficit back to 5-4 with his eighth goal at 18:18.

But with the Wings couldn't get the equalizer.

This, after the Wings had a 3-0 lead early in the second period after Justin Abdelkader scored.

“It was a bit deceiving,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said of his team’s 3-0 lead. “We had a 3-0 lead which is great, you’re putting yourself in position to win, but it wasn’t like we were dominating the game.

“They started to carry the play at 2-0. We got hemmed in our zone, they had tons of zone time and were wearing us out. It was deceiving we were up 3-0 in the sense of who was carrying the play.

“We have to be better.”

Ultimately for the “tank” fans, the Wings did what was needed.

And with Ottawa winning Thursday, the Wings crept to within four points of the Senators (54-58) for the NHL's worst record and getting the best odds to select No. 1 overall.

The victory was the Lightning’s 15th consecutive regular season win over the Wings. The Wings haven't defeated Tampa since Nov. 3, 2015. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, Tampa has a 22-4-0 record against the Wings.

“You can’t look back, you have to look forward to the next opportunity,” Niklas Kronwall said of the losing streak to Tampa. “It’ll be some time before we play them again. Every time is a new game. You can only focus on the next game and as far as the streak goes, the next game, find a way to be better.”

Madison Bowey (first Wings’ goal), Helm (shorthanded), and Abdelkader (first goal in 40 games) scored Wings goals and goaltender Jimmy Howard stopped 34 shots.

“We can’t give them free chances, or extra chances,” Abdelkader said. “It’s frustrating for sure.”

The Wings (24-37-10), have lost 12 of 13, and haven't won a game in regulation since Feb. 14 when they defeated Ottawa.

For a while it looked as if the Wings were going to steal a game they probably had no business winning. But over 60 minutes, Tampa’s talent came through.

“We didn’t have enough guys step up and play outstanding,” Blashill said. 

Thursday's victory raised Tampa's record to a ridiculous 54-13-4 and enabled the Lightning to tie its franchise record for single-season victories set last season.

In the salary-cap era, few teams have had the depth and talent this Lightning team has.

“Their best players are elite and they are playing the right way,” Blashill said. “To a large degree, their best players outplayed our best players. A lot of our best players are young and it’s learning lesson.”

Twitter: @tkulfan