Red Wings' loss to Panthers overshadowed by death of longtime team masseur
Detroit — The Red Wings were terrible Friday, but hockey takes a backseat to real life.
And real life certainly came into play after the game, a 7-2 loss to Florida, when the Wings found out about the death of longtime team masseur Sergei Tchekmarev.
An emotional coach Jeff Blashill was crestfallen over the death of the likable and popular Tchekmarev, more commonly known around the locker room as "Cheekah."
Tchekmarev, 65, had been around the Wings' organization since 1998.
Blashill said many details were still unclear. Tchekmarev was not at Little Caesars Arena, and the team and coaching staff found out about his passing after the game.
"He was an unreal man, he made it fun to be around the rink," Blashill said. "I knew him for 10-plus years, he was here for 20-plus years. I just think it's really important we honor (him).
"He was one of the best people I've ever been around, one of the kindest. He cared and had an unreal outlook on life. My heart goes out to his family (Tchekmarev leaves behind a wife and daughter) and certainly so many people around here that loved him, including myself."
Tchekmarev's death was a stunner and took away the impact of whatever happened on the ice.
The Panthers have looked like one of the NHL"s best teams through the first quarter of the season, and they certainly looked the part Friday. It was the Panthers' fourth win in five games against the Wings this season.
"We were terrible tonight, we didn't play good," said Blashill, still emotional, after announcing Tchekmarev's death. "I don't have any words for it at all. With all due respect to everybody, that's all I'm going to answer."
The Red Wings (4-12-3) continue to stay in the Central Division basement, while the Panthers (11-2-2) moved atop the division.
Bobby Ryan and Valtteri Filppula scored the Wings' goals.
"Not acceptable," forward Frans Nielsen said. "We started to figure out what it takes to win, what we need to do to have success (on a recent road trip), and for sure it wasn't Xs and Os out there, it was straight we were losing one on one battles all over the ice and made it easy on them.
"We didn't show up."
Filppula scored his second goal, at 2 minutes, 49 seconds of the third period, cutting the lead to 5-2. Filppula's goal happened just six seconds after a Red Wings' power play expired. The pain on the power play continued, as the Red Wings haven't scored a power-play goal in 11 consecutive games, covering 33 power plays (four Friday).
The Panthers scored three goals in a span of six minutes, 37 seconds midway in the first period to take control.
Juho Lammikko (6:09), Mackenzie Weegar (7:58) and Patric Hornqvist (12:45) blitzed the Wings, who hardly resembled a team who had been playing better defensively for the past two weeks.
After Ryan cut the lead to 3-1 with his fifth goal, a blast in stride from just atop the circle at 14:06, ending a 14-game goal-scoring drought, the Panthers quickly restored the three-goal lead.
Aleksander Barkov drove the net, and tapped in a loose puck in the crease, Barkov’s sixth goal, at 15:18.
"Whatever little momentum we got, from that (Ryan) goal, was completely gone," Nielsen said.
Blashill switched from goaltender Thomas Greiss (nine saves) to Jonathan Bernier after the first-period barrage, looking for any kind of spark at all.
Bernier stopped 23 of 26 shots. Aaron Ekblad, Hornqvist (power play) and Duclair capped the Panthers' scoring.
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The seven goals allowed equaled a season-high for the Red Wings.
Driedger stopped 30 shots to earn the victory.
"Lot of games we felt we played well and we've been down a lot of games but we kept going, and tonight they got a couple of goals and (I) can't explain what happened," Nielsen said. "Lost energy, and everything. The other games we were able to pick each other up and keep fighting and work our way back into the game.
"Tonight was unacceptable."