Losing in-game 'battles' vs. Maple Leafs sticks with Red Wings, not comeback

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — It would have been a remarkable comeback, one for the ages, but coach Jeff Blashill wasn't fooled.

Had the Red Wings come all the way back Saturday and somehow defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs — they lost 10-7, after entering the third period trailing 7-2 — it would have been a milestone game in the history of the longtime Original Six rivals.

Maple Leafs left wing Nicholas Robertson (left) dumps Detroit Red Wings center Robby Fabbri in the first period Saturday in Detroit.

But the Wings' rally fell short. They lost, and the stench of the first 40 minutes was more on the Blashill's mind than a furious third-period comeback.

Add it all up, and this game wasn't one of the Wings' best. 

"I don't have mixed emotions," said Blashill, when asked if there were mixed feelings about the final outcome. "I can look at things through clear eyes and I know it would have been great to come back and win, and it would have been exciting and awesome, but there's no doubt I also know if we did that, that's not good enough. I'm worried about making sure it's better than that."

It's the first two periods that were so costly, and ugly, for the Wings.

After a lackluster practice Friday, the Wings carried that lack of momentum into facing the Leafs, and it cost them dearly.

Toronto absolutely dominated from the start, and the Wings couldn't match the energy level.

“We lost every puck race, every puck battle, every competition battle,” Blashill said. “If you lose those types of battles, I don’t care what happens, you’re going to get scored on.

“These games are a test for us, and you better understand how much we have to compete and work and sacrifice. We finally started doing that in the third, both offensively and defensively. We gave up some chances but some of that is you’re probably taking some chances, (but) in the third we competed, we worked, we sacrificed, we blocked shots. The first two we didn’t compete, didn’t work, didn’t sacrifice.

"The only chance for our team to do anything special is to be extraordinary in our compete, our work and our sacrifice.”

The players got the message and weren't fooled, either.

The boos at Little Caesars Arena after the end of the second period were a reminder of how the Wings were playing.

“Embarrassing; we just had no pulse,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “We deserved to be where we were. We didn’t deserve to win, that’s for sure.

"We're out of the game and we started scoring like crazy. I was happy our fans stuck around, to be honest. They gave us a big boost there, a lot of energy. They were pumped up and it got us rolling. It was a fantastic crowd to stick with us there."

But from the game perspective?

"There just wasn’t a lot there to like," Staal said.

What helped get the Wings back into the game — along with shoddy Maple Leafs goaltending and defensive work — was the Wings simply getting the puck toward the net.

An inability to do so, or desire to do so, through the first two periods contributed to the Wings trailing, 7-2.

“If you look at the third (period), if I’m a player I’m looking at how did we have success — we got pucks in behind them, we played in their end and we shot pucks,” Blashill said. “For whatever reason we refused to shoot the puck before that point and probably didn’t shoot it enough after we got it close.”

But ultimately, as Blashill said, it was all "fool's gold."

Yes, the Wings stormed back and made it a close, exciting game, and fans, generally, went home entertained.

But the underlying themes were all the areas the Wings broke down, the stockpiling of defensive issues, inefficient goaltending from Alex Nedeljkovic and Thomas Greiss (although the defense in front of them certainly didn't help), and a surprising lack of emotion in a big game atmosphere.

With three more games this week against three of the best teams in the NHL (Carolina at home Tuesday, then road games Friday and Saturday in Tampa and Florida, respectively), the Wings have to be way better.

“It’s great that we were able to finally start shooting the puck and pucks went in late, but at the end of the day it’s fool’s gold,” Blashill said. “That’s not good enough. Our guys know that, I hope our guys know that. What happened out there (Saturday) wasn’t good enough.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan