Tampa, Fla. — Death, taxes and the Red Wings losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Certain things you can count on, and the Red Wings’ item has become automatic in recent years.
Sunday it happened yet again — the Wings’ losing to Tampa part — this time by a 2-1 score. The loss extended the Wings’ losing streak to 16 games against Tampa.
Tampa forward Brayden Point broke a 1- 1 tie with a power-play goal, his 15th, at 5 minutes, 33 seconds of the third period.
“We played hard and battled but the ice got tilted the wrong way,” said coach Jeff Blashill, noting the Wings wound up defending too much as the game wore on. “When they scored, we lost momentum and we never got it back. We just couldn’t get it going offensively.”
On the winning goal, Point had the puck near the corner, skated toward the net along the goal line and snuck a shot short-side on goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who deserved a better fate having kept the Wings close all evening with 37 saves.
“I have to honor the fact they’d been hitting the middle (player) on their power play the whole game, so I have to kind of face him but make sure I’m ready for the backdoor or slot shot,” Bernier said. “I tried to lean and cover as much as possible and he made a good shot.”
It was the first and only Lightning goal on the power play Sunday — and they have a dangerous one — on their fourth opportunity.
“You want to stay out of the box as much as you can,” Blashill said. “Eventually that power play will find a way to score. They’re super dangerous. Our penalty kill is a little like our 5-on-5, we couldn’t get out of our end enough, and eventually, it’s going to end up in your net.”
Robby Fabbri had the lone Wings' goal, his 10th.
So, back to the streak.
The Wings haven’t defeated Tampa since Nov. 3, 2015, over that span of 16 games.
For good measure, the Wings haven’t won in Tampa in 14 consecutive games — the last time coming in Feb. 7, 2011.
What Bernier liked, and several other Wings over the course of the weekend, was the compete level of the team while in the midst of this sustained losing.
“It’s a tough league, every night is hard, and we played a pretty good game in Florida (Saturday) and came up short, and (Sunday) we did, too,” Bernier said. “It’s 2-1, not much time left, you’d like to go 2-2 and go to overtime and see what happens, but we came up short.”
Bernier was outstanding, one of his better games this season, in his return after missing a week with an apparent groin injury.
“Bernier was excellent, he was our best player,” Blashill said. “He gave us a chance to be in position for either a point, or two points.”
Tampa opened the scoring in the second period.
Kevin Shattenkirk’s shot from the high slot was deflected by Ondrej Palat, the puck handcuffing Bernier for Palat’s 11th goal, at 4:10 of the second period.
A Tampa power play midway in the second period went nowhere, and the Wings tied it shortly after.
Filip Hronek's shot appeared to be going wide of goalie Curtis McElhinney, but Fabbri got his stick on it and redirected the puck inside and past McElhinney at 17:54 of the second period.
The loss was the Wings' sixth consecutive defeat, and rather astonishingly, their 18th in 20 games (2-16-2).
“What we can’t do is let these losses wear us down, that’s happened too many times this year,” Blashill said. “It’s a mental test for sure. But we have to find a way to not worry about the last game.”
The Wings return home to play San Jose Tuesday in the traditional New Year's Eve game at Little Caesars Arena.