Larkin scores first career hat trick as Red Wings beat Devils

By Steve Kornacki
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — Detroit Red Wings fans entered Little Caesars Saturday night wondering what their team, reshuffled by COVID-19 protocol roster and coaching subtractions in the morning, would look and play like.

Captain Dylan Larkin answered any fears the faithful might have had, scoring his first career hat trick and sparking a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils.

Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin (71) skates past New Jersey Devils left wing Andreas Johnsson (11) to score his third goal of the game, for a hat trick, during the second period.

Larkin, extending his team-high total to 15 goals, gathered the puck at mid-ice on a pass from Kyle Criscuolo and skated in hard and fast to beat goalie Akira Schmid low and stick side before punching the air twice with his gloved right hand.

“It did feel good,” said Larkin, whose 131st career goal completed the hat trick. “You know, I’d obviously never had one. I think about my ‘Nana’ (Alice Larkin). She’d always give me $5 every goal. They’re both proud ‘Nanas,’ too. You score a hat trick, and you just do it, and it’s been hard. This one is definitely for my ‘Nana’ and my grandmother (Marilyn Davis).”

BOX SCORE: Red Wings 5, Devils 2

It was a moment the seventh-year NHL star from the University of Michigan and Waterford will always remember. Dozens of hats, mostly winter knits and baseball caps, were tossed onto the ice.

There was pure and utter joy in Hockeytown on a day that began with the gloom of having four players and two coaches grounded amid the growing pandemic that is postponing games – including Detroit’s Monday night home game with the Colorado Avalanche.

Assisting on the third Larkin goal was Criscuolo, 29, who had been recalled earlier this week from the Grand Rapids Griffins. It was the first point of his career in his 11th NHL game.

So, who received the puck from that goal?

“I’m going to pass that one to him,” said Larkin. “That’s a big deal for him. And I couldn’t be happier for ‘Cris.’ He plays the right way. He’s one of those guys that stepped in tonight. He won a lot of battles, won a lot of faceoffs.

“So, I’m not surprised that he got the puck to me there, and I was able to go down. So, he deserves it.”  

The Red Wings had plenty of adjusting to do prior to the game.

However, the only line left unchanged by the most-recent positive COVID-19 tests provided all the Detroit scoring.

Tyler Bertuzzi, the left wing on the No. 1 line of captain and center Larkin, scored his 11th and 12th goals of the season.

Detroit placed left wing Filip Zadina on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list less than one hour before the game, and he became the fourth player added Saturday, joining starting goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, left wing Givani Smith and center Carter Rowney.

Head coach Jeff Blashill and assistant coach Alex Tanguay were added to the list, too, and gone from behind the bench.

Red Wings center Michael Rasmussen and right wing Robby Fabbri had also recently been put on the protocol list and remained out.

That left Detroit down four forwards, one goalie, and two coaches.

Reinforcements arrived from the Griffins, and Red Wings assistant coach Doug Houda was joined behind the bench by Grand Rapids head coach Ben Simon and assistant coach Todd Krygier.

Wings GM Steve Yzerman on coach Jeff Blashill in COVID protocol

“We found a way and we battled through it,” Houda told reporters after the game, noting that the win went to Simon, who ran the bench. “We got a win at the end of the day.”

Also summoned from Grand Rapids were goaltender Calvin Pickard, 28, and forward Riley Barber, 27. Detroit had recalled center Criscuolo and left wing Taro Hirose from that same American Hockey League affiliate on Wednesday.

Blashill was able to communicate with the coaching replacements prior to and during the game, and shuffling lines was an important consideration. But it all worked on this night thanks to the No. 1 line and Thomas Greiss playing solid between the pipes with 31 saves.

Larkin scored his first goal on a bizarre play.

Defenseman Filip Hronek cleared the puck from just beyond the faceoff circle to the right of goalie Greiss, lifting it high toward the corner to the right of Schmid.

Schmid, from Switzerland, playing in only his third career NHL game, made the unfortunate decision to leave the net in order to gain control of the puck. However, it was well out of his reach, hit the boards at high velocity, and caromed on an angle right to Larkin, cruising in on goal.

Larkin wasted no time shooting it into the empty net before Schmid could return to his post at 15:39 of the first period.

The Devils tied the game with a goal from Michael McLeod with only 49 seconds remaining in the opening period.

However, then Larkin and Bertuzzi lit the lamp in rapid succession mid-way through the second period, scoring within 39 second of one another.

It happened so quickly that LCA public address announcer Erich Freiny had his scoring summary of the first goal broken by the roar of the crowd as he exclaimed: “Red Wings goal by DYLAN LARKIN!”

He resumed adding the assists after the crowd settled down following Bertuzzi’s tally: “…As I was saying, Red Wings assists by Vladislav Namestnikov and Pius Suter.”

Rookie defenseman Moritz Seider, who shares Detroit’s lead with 18 assists with fellow rookie Lucas Raymond, fed Bertuzzi with a truly deft pass through two defenders.

Bertuzzi scored the final goal at 14:07 of the third period on pass from behind the net by Larkin, going top shelf with a wrister . Raymond started the play and also received an assist.

It was a game full of memories on a night when nobody was quite sure what would happen.

“It was a good night, a good team win,” Larkin concluded. “We scored when we needed to and Greisser had a great start for us. And that was a huge win for our hockey team…You see guys go down and the world right now with the spike, and it’s hard. You have to be a great professional now and come ready to play, and really be dialed into nutrition, and do everything possible to stay safe.

“It seems like there’s no way to stop it, and whatever happens happens…It’s been difficult, and you just have to find a way to show up and play. I give credit to the guys who came from Grand Rapids…It feels pretty good in the room in a pretty tough time right now.”

Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.