Newark, N.J. — For 40 minutes the Red Wings were the better team Thursday and appeared headed for victory.
But, those final 20 minutes … well, Red Wings fans know too well how that usually turns out.
This time, it was a bit uglier and more shocking than usual.
New Jersey scored four goals in a span of four minutes, which carried the Devils to a 4-1 victory — the Wings' second consecutive loss to begin this four-game road trip with powerhouses Boston and Pittsburgh left this weekend.
“We stopped skating,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “We stopped skating, we stopped playing, and we deserve what we got.”
Defenseman Andy Greene, the longtime veteran from Trenton, tied the score 1-1 in the third period, then Wayne Simmonds scored two goals — one on a power play — and Jesper Bratt ended the barrage with his 11th goal.
That the Wings' lost isn't surprising, given their 14-41-4 record. But that the Devils rallied — well, they entered this game 2-20-0 when trailing after two periods, so that was rather shocking.
The Devils (21-25-10) have won three of their last four games and defeated the Wings both times this season.
“No one wants to be in this position,” Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin said. “I felt the past two weeks we’ve been building, and building our game, playing as a unit of five out there and our goaltending has been great.
Justin Abdelkader talks about what Thursday's third period breakdown that keyed a 4-1 Wings' defeat. The Detroit News
“Tonight, we took a step backward. In a league that is so tight and competitive, you have to come out every night, especially us. We have to come out harder.”
Andreas Athanasiou (power play) scored the Wings goal.
The Devils' explosion was rather startling, and began innocently enough.
Greene's shot from the point bounced off goaltender Jonathan Bernier and into the net, Greene's second goal of the season at 5 minutes, 10 seconds.
Then, as usually happens with the Wings this season, the snowball effect began, grew, and just rolled over the Wings.
Simmonds gave the Devils a 2-1 lead at 6:54, capping a nice tic-tac-toe passing play with Miles Wood and Pavel Zacha, as Simmonds batted the puck past a diving Bernier.
Dylan Larkin talks about the Red Wings' 4-1 loss in New Jersey. The Detroit News
Simmonds made it 3-1 with his eighth goal, on the power play at 8:37, putting back a rebound past Bernier, as the Wings began losing control of the game.
Bratt capped the four-goal barrage at 9:10 with his 11th goal, as the small crowd at Prudential Center roared, surprised and excited by the unexpected turn of events.
“We took a lot of penalties and it took a lot of flow out (of the game),” Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader said. “We didn’t execute enough all over the ice. It felt like they got a few shifts going and it really tilted the rink.”
For the opening 40 minutes, special teams were the story as the teams made a steady stream to the penalty box.
There were nine power plays through two periods — five by the Devils — with the endless penalties providing no flow to the game.
Athanasiou opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 16:34 of the second period.
Athanasiou took a drop pass from Anthony Mantha and whistled a shot from the dot past screened goalie Mackenzie Blackwood.
But in the final 20 minutes, the Devils completely reversed the tone of the game.
“At the end of the day we have to play way better,” Blashill said. “We just stopped playing. I don’t have an answer why exactly.
“I’ve said it lots, to get better as a group and better individually, you have to take steps forward with as few steps backward as you can. We’ve taken a good number steps forward, but we took a step backward tonight.”