Larkin returns to Red Wings' lineup, relieved and grateful

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Las Vegas — Dylan Larkin was expected back on the ice Thursday night and in the lineup — completely healthy — when the Red Wings faced the Vegas Golden Knights.

Larkin was pulled between the second and third periods of Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars by league officials for COVID-19 protocol.

Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin (71) protects the puck from Washington Capitals left wing Carl Hagelin (62) in the third period.

But Larkin was on the ice for the Wings' morning skate, after a test Wednesday confirmed the results of the first test were inaccurate, or "false positive."

When Larkin got news early Wednesday evening, still in Dallas quarantining, he rushed to the airport and traveled to Vegas, arriving late in the night.

"I'm here and happy to be here," Larkin said after the morning skate. "It's been tough, yes, but it's part of the world right now and part of the protocols. It has been challenging mentally, thinking about other people, about the possibility of 10 days out (of the lineup, per protocol rules), so there's been a lot going through my mind."

Larkin was feeling fine — he scored a power-play goal Tuesday — and didn't have any symptoms.

"You've seen it a lot of times guys tested positive and they don't get symptoms for a day or two, so you never know," Larkin said. "You just follow the protocols and rules and take it very serious, which it is. Luckily it was nothing and I'm able to here.

"Again, it's just part of what the world is right now and what we're all trying to deal with. Yes, we play hockey, but we're in a pandemic and there's protocols and things you can do to help but the virus is still out there. You see it and deal with it, and try to be as safe as possible."

Larkin was as surprised as anyone Tuesday when he was pulled from the game.

"A lot of disbelief, frustration, then the possibility of having COVID and trying to get out of there and not infecting anyone, although I played two periods," Larkin said. "There was a lot there and I thought a lot about the guys and not having a bigger situation of it."

Larkin spent the day Wednesday in Dallas in his hotel taking it easy and binging on some television shows.

"A lot of both," Larkin said. "Relaxing, and trying to eat healthy and hydrate and doing things I normally do, but staying in the hotel room. It was a pretty uneventful day."

Coach Jeff Blashill was relieved the shutdown was behind Larkin and everyone could move forward.

"It's frustrating, but at the end of the day, we're all kind of going through, everybody in life is going through, difficult things that could be frustrating with COVID. It's just the reality of it and you have to deal with it," Blashill said. "Would I have loved it if he wasn't pulled in the third (period) and finished (the game)? Absolutely. Am I glad he doesn't have COVID from a health concern? Absolutely.

"Am I glad he's available tonight? For sure."

There was definitely a sense of relief, given what is going around the NHL the past several weeks and the effect COVID still has on teams and individuals.

The Ottawa Senators had three games postponed until later this season because as many as 10 Senators players had the virus.  The Wings' opponent Thursday, Vegas, has been hit with several cases and San Jose and Chicago were stricken early in the season.

"From a team perspective we're all relieved," Blashill said. "Once it gets in your team, it being COVID, it seems to spread fast, so we're all relieved."

The entire incident does serve as a sort of wake-up call, Blashill said.

"We're probably like a lot of people in the world really, we all have a little COVID fatigue and wished it would go away," Blashill said. "But COVID doesn't seem to have fatigue and so we better make sure we're vigilant.

"Given what's happened in the last little bit (around the NHL), certainly it adds to everybody's heightened awareness and make sure we are doing everything we can (to stay vigilant)."

Blashill said the Wings are being tested regularly, as is every NHL team. They were tested again after Larkin's false positive. Nobody tested positive for COVID.

This entire episode was another issue for Larkin, who has already been suspended one game for throwing a sucker punch at Tampa's Mathieu Joseph on opening night (after Joseph ran Larkin into the boards), has been away from the team for three games for a family emergency, then Tuesday had the COVID false-positive.

Yet, Larkin came into Thursday's game averaging a point per game (eight goals, six assists, 14 points) in 14 games.

"There's been some difficult things going on," Larkin said. "I was really hoping when I came back after the time away last week, I was really hoping to have all that in the past and try to move forward. I'm looking forward to doing that and continue to play and be there for the guys and play real hard and that's what I've been trying to do. Not worry about whether pucks are going in, worried most about the team, and playing a good game for the team.

"The highs and lows of this league, and they're pretty dramatic at times especially if you let them. At times, I've really let them get to me. This year, I've really worked on not letting that happen and whether it's going well or not, or other things have come into your life and take you out of the lineup for a week, or you can't play in the third period, I'm just trying not to let it get to me and be grateful I'm here."

Staal out

Larkin was back, but the Wings were forced to tinker with their lineup.

Defenseman Marc Staal was not available to play Thursday because of a non-COVID illness.

Without Staal, either Jordan Oesterle or Troy Stecher were likely to enter the lineup.

Twitter: @tkulfan