Before the season began, many people had Tampa Bay penciled in as the team to beat in the East. I'm sure if you asked the Wings, they'd agree.
For the third time this season, Tampa and Detroit faced off in a game with divisional and playoff implications. For the third time this season, the Lightning were the winners.
The Bolts scored first. Jimmy Howard gave up a large rebound with a Tampa player all over him, and Corsi hero Anton Stralman pounced on the loose puck to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. The Wings would respond on the power play. A shot found its way behind Ben Bishop, and while several Bolts players flailed at it, Tomas Tatar poked it home to tie the game at 1.
The start of the third saw the Wings on their heels, perhaps due to having played the night before, or perhaps because Tampa turned it on, but the Lightning spent a lot of time in the Wings zone. Detroit survived the first half of the period, but a bad turnover by Gustav Nyquist allowed Tampa to get a break, and despite looking like a broken play, no one picked up Alex Killorn, who made no mistake and gave the Bolts the lead again.
The overall effort was better than the last time these teams met, but if this next part sounds like a broken record, it's because we've said it all year long: the big mistakes defensively are killing this team, and they're not scoring enough to overcome them. Coupled with that is a tendency to become very fancy and try to do too much as individuals, which then results in further mistakes because they get out of position, and then they can't create offense.
The sad fact is that since the trade deadline this team has looked broken, despite the fact that on paper, they got better with the acquisitions of Erik Cole and Marek Zidlicky. The only game where the Wings looked remotely like a strong team was against a Penguins team that melted down. It's hard to pinpoint something, and the easy thing to do is blame the defense or the goaltending. While both those things need to get better, the fact is the Wings have scored more than 2 goals in only three games since the trade deadline. They can't generate offense at even strength, and in the playoffs that's going to be their downfall.
Getting to tonight's game, overall I thought the effort was much better than last night's. Jimmy Howard responded very well to his last dreadful outing against Philadelphia, and outside of a big rebound while being hounded on the first goal, he was rock solid and kept the Wings in the game. At the other end, Ben Bishop was also very good, and the Wings were unable to get any consistent traffic in front of him.
However, once again it was a case of the Wings just not being good enough to beat the Lightning. Make no mistake: the Lightning are a hell of a team, and have been my pick to come out of the East since the beginning of the year. If the standings hold, this will be the first round opponent for Detroit, and no one is going to give them a snowball's chance in hell of winning. But right now the Wings need to worry about getting their own house in order. With the way they are playing right now, they could play the Sabres in the first round and be in serious trouble. Thankfully they still have 12 games to get their shit together and get back to the team that challenged for the division earlier this year.