'He was sharp': Thomas Greiss' key save at crucial moment sparks Red Wings
One save can make a difference in a game, and that was the case in Sunday's 5-1 Red Wings' victory over the Lightning.
The Wings were leading 1-0 midway in the second period when goaltender Thomas Greiss turned aside Tampa star Steven Stamkos on a three-on-one Lightning rush.
Several minutes later, Valtteri Filppula scored and began a three-goal flurry for the Wings, salting away the victory.
But if Stamkos had scored there? Who knows what would have happened.
"Huge," coach Jeff Blashill said of Greiss' save in that situation. "Instead (of 1-1) we're able to build a 4-0 lead and that's the difference in winning and losing. Lots of time you need big saves at big moments and you need the goalie to stop the ones he is supposed to stop, and he did.
"We didn't give them a lot of chances, but that's a huge moment."
In what has been a frustrating season largely for Greiss, Sunday's 27-save victory was a highlight — if not the highlight thus far of the season for the veteran.
"He was definitely real sharp," Blashill said. "One thing Tampa does is they have a ton of traffic and make it hard around the cage, and shoot a ton of pucks. He did a great job of fighting through traffic and finding the puck and didn't create a whole lot of extra havoc.
"From start to finish, it was maybe his best game in a long time, one of the best of the year."
Sunday's victory was only Greiss' third of the season (3-15-5). But Greiss came into the game with the Wings averaging 1.5 goals per game in his starts, forcing Greiss to be almost perfect to have a chance for a win.
"It's always nice to have some goals," said Greiss, who had five to work with Sunday. "We played well and it's nice to have a little luck here and there, and some bounces."
Greiss was referring to the save on Stamkos with the luck and bounce, as the Wings went down and scored after the save to extend their lead.
Even in Saturday's 2-1 loss, the Wings played sound hockey most of the way and, arguably, carried the play for five of the six periods in the two games in Tampa.
Sunday, after taking the lead early, the Wings stuck to the game plan and frustrated the Lightning's many offensive weapons.
"We were real smart. It was a good veteran game," Greiss said. "We have a lot of young players, but we played smart the whole game."
For the Wings to win they usually need a total team effort defensively.
The Wings aren't built, right now, to win a high-scoring game. Playing against a team like Tampa, with its roster of goal-scorers, the Wings have to keep it simple, slow the Lightning down, and win a low-scoring affair.
They almost did it Saturday but certainly did it Sunday, almost to perfection.
"We did as good a job through the neutral zone as we've done all season," Blashill said. "Coming up through the neutral zone, especially in the second period, we sat back in the third and they came at us too much, but we didn't give them much space and we created turnovers.
"In our own zone, we were pretty good. They are real active with a number of their players, but we did a good job of manning up (defensively). We have to be a good defensive team, that's how you win in this league."
Sprint to finish line
Blashill was talking late last week about the uniqueness of this season and how teams are only playing against opponents within their divisions.
The schedule is making for tight races, particularly in the Wings' Central Division, with four teams essentially battling for the fourth and final playoff spot.
Blashill feels the experience of playing those teams these final weeks will benefit the Wings.
"Looking at the league is a difficult thing because, with the divisions, nobody plays each other, so we're really living in our own division," Blashill said. "I just know that we're battling every day to get better as a group. We're battling to improve and take steps forward.
"We want to show we're a better team than our current record. There's a competitiveness in that, for sure. There's a pride factor in that. We're going to play a lot of teams that are battling for lots of points, and it should make for competitive hockey down the stretch."
Forward Robby Fabbri was not in the lineup Sunday with an undisclosed injury.
Blashill said he'd know more about Fabbri's condition Tuesday and wouldn't speculate as to how long Fabbri might be out.
With Fabbri unavailable, Blashill went back to the 11 forwards-seven defensemen lineup and brought back defenseman Christian Djoos, who had an assist in 9:30 of ice time.
… Goaltender Jonathan Bernier (lower body) and forwards Bobby Ryan (upper body) and Sam Gagner (lower body) all remained out of the lineup. That's four games now for both forwards and nine for Bernier.
… Sunday's goals ended an 11-game drought for Dylan Larkin and was the first since Feb. 19 for Filppula, who only re-entered the lineup Saturday after being a healthy scratch since Feb. 28.