When the schedule was released earlier this year, February 17 was circled by a lot of Red Wing fans as a game of extreme importance. It was the first time Steve Yzerman was facing the Wings as an opponent, but since a lot of fans have adopted the Lightning as a secondary team, the vibe between the two fanbases was one of mutual respect and admiration. However, once the game started, it was all business for the Wings who continued to emerge from their January and February doldrums like a bear waking up after a long hibernation.
The Wings opened the scoring early in the first period. Nicklas Lidstrom's point shot was deflected in by Dan Cleary on the power play, giving the Wings a 1-0 lead. The Wings weathered some penalty troubles without giving up a goal to the potent Tampa power play, and the Wings upped their lead to 2 when Pavel Datsyuk pounced on a rebound and scored an easy goal.
The second period opened with Ken and Mickey talking to Chris Osgood, but that was the highlight of the first 10 minutes. However, the Wings defense pair of Rafalski and Ericsson wanted to liven things up, as Rafalski could not clear the zone past a jumping Victor Hedman. Hedman's wrist shot was tipped in by Ericsson, pulling the Bolts to within a goal. Steve Downie got the Lightning back on even terms when he took advantage of a Steven Stamkos fan and put the puck past a prone Jimmy Howard. The funky bounces continued when Niklas Kronwall's power play shot ricocheted off Hedman's skate to restore the Wings' lead. Less than 90 seconds later, the rebound patrol picked up another goal when Justin Abdelkader got a gift when Dwayne Roloson misplayed a Thomas Holmstrom shot, and the Wings were up by 2 for the second time in the game.
Follow the jump for the third period recap and bullet points.
Let's call a spade a spade: the third period was pretty dull. The Wings settled into a prevent defense and took the charge out of the Lightning offense. Datsyuk scored his second goal of the game after a brilliant pass by Jiri Hudler, and Darren Helm iced the victory with a breakaway goal to match his career-high in points and put the cherry on top of a 6-2 victory.
This was the third straight strong effort from the Wings following a real stinker against the Predators, all at the expense of Eastern Conference opponents. Let's take a look at the analysis.
- So, that line of Datsyuk, Cleary and Hudler is pretty good, eh? I'm going to call it and say that Hudler has officially turned his season around, and if you look at when it happened, it's eerie. When Chris Osgood finally got win number 400, Happy had 2 points in that game. Since then, he's had 18 points in 21 games. Maybe Hudler was so worried about Ozzie getting that milestone win that it was eating him up inside and affecting his play. Of course, it could also be because he's getting minutes with quality linemates that he has had time to adjust to. Either way, this is the Hudler we've been waiting for.
- Speaking of Osgood, he was interviewed during the second period, and he said that he is hoping to be back within 2 weeks. Then he talked about his hips and knees and other injuries that he is currently dealing with, and I actually cringed as he spoke of tendons separating. Then he made a funny comment about how he has a good record against the Lightning and said "I don't like to brag". Get this man on Twitter.
- The Lightning are kicking off a 12-game homestand, which Ken and Mick told us was tied for the longest in professional sports. I can't help but think that this homestand may be bad news for the Bolts; road trips allow the team to bond and come together, especially during this time of year when the players are getting ready for the playoffs. I wish them luck and hope they go 11-1-0.
- I could not get over how many Red Wing fans were at the game tonight. At times it sounded like a Wing home game. I know a few WIIM-ers were there: if you were, let us know how it was, post pics, etc.
- I thought the Wings "won" this game in the first period when they killed off 2 straight penalties, one of them a 4-minute high-sticking call on Jakub Kindl (who had a pretty good game, overall). Not only did they not allow a goal, but they really limited the number of quality chances the Bolts had. Overall, the Lightning went 0-5 on the PP while the Wings went 2-3 (even if one of those goals was after a really chintzy call against Lecavalier). I wonder why the PK looked so good........
- Could it have been the return of Brad Stuart? The correct answer is "hell yes". Stuart finished the game with 28 shifts for a total TOI of 21:10, he was a +1 and credited with 1 hit. Most importantly, he did not seem to be behind at any point in the game, no small feat considering he was back against one of the better teams in the conference after being out of the lineup for 15 games. Tomorrow night we may see him regress a little as he works back up to game shape (they mentioned during the broadcast that he lost 10 pounds after the injury), but tonight it was great to see Stuie back.
- If any of the TPL boys are reading this, they mentioned Steve Yzerman a total of 13 times by my count, so consider my pledge of $19 to be completed.
- Not a whole lot else to say about that game. The Wings were hungry, they skated with purpose and determination, and there was a real jump in their step all night. Chatting with JJ after the game, we were both really surprised to see that both Todd Bertuzzi and Henrik Zetterberg were -2 each on the night. One of those should all fall on Rafalksi and Ericsson, but overall it was a great team effort against another division leader.
- Player of the game was Pavel Datsyuk (Happy Birthday, Igorzba!). Yes, we did that because Helm screwed up his score prediction for the double bonus: but Pavel was the best Wing out there.
There's no rest for the wicked as the Wings travel down the coast to Miami. The Wings will be facing a goaltender they know very well in Tomas Vokoun, and it will be interesting to see if the Wings let up a little after the emotion I'm sure a lot of them were feeling facing their former captain's new team. Dare we say the Wings are back? I don't think we're quite there yet, but the feeling around the fanbase is certainly much happier than it was a few weeks ago. We'll see you tomorrow night for the game. I leave you all with this:
He may work for the Lightning, but he'll always be a Red Wing.