The Red Wings played a fairly good game in Game 1, but came up a little short. In Game 2, the Wings had a good start, but penalties and undisciplined play combined with the same issues that have plagued this team all season combined to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a 5-2 victory and 2-0 series lead.
Tampa once again scored first, they responded every time the Wings tied the game, and they were the better team over 60 minutes. By the end of the game, the Wings had lost their composure and their minds, and it wasn't a good look for a team that has now lost 4 consecutive playoff games dating back to last season.
The first 10 minutes were a little weird. The Wings controlled zone time, getting the game's first penalty when Alex Killorn was called for holding Jonathan Ericsson. The Wings failed to generate more than 2 shots on goal, and it looked like the power play from the first half of the season had returned. However, it was the Lightning who had the majority of the quality scoring chances, failing to score only because Danny DeKeyser parked his big ol' butt in the crease and blocked a shot. The Lightning got their first power play of the game when Kyle Quincey was penalized for roughing. The Wings killed it, giving up shots but keeping the Lightning to the perimeter and preventing second chances. The Wings went right back on the penalty kill after Gustav Nyquist slashed Brayden Coburn's stick, and Justin Abdelkader immediately took a tripping penalty after clearing the puck, giving the Lightning a very long 5-on-3. It didn't take the Bolts long to convert, and Nikita Kucherov ripped another shot over Jimmy Howard's glove to give Tampa a 1-0 lead. Tampa poured it on after that, giving the Wings very little time or space in their own zone and hitting numerous posts. Were it not for sheer dumb luck, the Wings easily could have been down by 3 or 4 after the first.
Score: 1-0 Lightning
Shots: 15-12 Red Wings
Strong Period: Pavel Datsyuk
Tough Period: Oh, we'll get to that
The second began as the first ended, with the Lightning getting an early penalty with Dylan Larkin called for hooking Kucherov to negate a 2-on-1. The Wings killed it in splendid fashion, and immediately after getting back on the ice, Larkin collected a puck that bounced off the end boards and put it five-hole on Ben Bishop to tie the game. Brian Boyle got away with interference on Luke Glendening and then went right down the ice and scored a goal, a moment where, based on the refereeing standard up to that point, should have been a penalty on Boyle, However, it wasn't called, and the Wings were behind again. The period really devolved at that point, with the referees appearing to lose control. Pavel Datsyuk was high-sticked by Victor Hedman with no call, but his retailiation was called, with Tomas Tatar serving the penalty because Datsyuk lost a tooth. Danny DeKeyser laid a huge hit on Ondrej Palat (which turned out to be one of the least controversial things to happen in the game), and all hell broke loose. The Wings came out of that scrum with the power play, but couldn't score on it or their subsequent power play when Hedman hooked Glendening. The Wings got their third straight power play late in the period, and while they looked a little more dangerous, they were unable to beat Bishop and tie the game.
Score: 2-1 Lightning
Shots: 23-21 Red Wings
Strong Period: Dylan Larkin
Tough Period: The referees
The teams were still playing physical hockey as the third period began, but you could sense controlled emotion on both teams since the score was so tight. Nikita Nesterov high-sticked Gustav Nyquist, and Brad Richards scored on the power play to tie the game. The Wings had a great chance to take their first lead, but Datsyuk just missed the puck on a rebound. Tampa re-took the lead when the Wings had a collective brain fart. Jonathan Ericsson took the wrong man driving the net, and Alex Killorn took a pass and circled the net. Jimmy Howard followed him, getting out of position, and Killorn fed Tyler Johnson in front, who had Niklas Kronwall right behind him but didn't tie him up, and Johnson put Tampa ahead again. As the third continued, the Wings showed some push, pressuring the Tampa defense and creating chances. However, the Wings were victimized once again by Johnson, this time as he cruised through the zone without being touched and took a pass from Kucherov and beat Howard. Alex Killorn added an empty net goal and that was that. There was a huge melee at the end of the game where Abdelkader went nuts on Mike Blunden and everyone else fought, but at the end of the day the Lightning got a deserved 5-2 victory and 2-0 series lead.
Score: 5-2 Lightning
Shots: 32-31 Red Wings
Strong Period: No one, fold the team
Tough Period: Pretty much everyone
Points of Observation
First, I want to start with an apology. In my last recap, I made a crack about the state of Florida and the city of Tampa. I hate when fans of opposing teams do that to Detroit, because making fun of where people live and work is irrelevant when discussing what transpired on the ice. I'd be a giant hypocrite if I made those comments while getting angry when others make them against Detroit. For that, I sincerely apologize to anyone who lives in Florida or Tampa.
"The story of the evening, as it has been for the entire season, was the Red Wings' power play and their complete inability to turn a game in their favor." That's what I was typing literally as Richards scored in the third period. While they did get a goal from their power play, it doesn't excuse the complete lack of quality chances in the 4 power plays prior to that one, especially in the second period when a goal could have shifted momentum and not resulted in them from playing from behind all game.
At one point in the first period, Jonathan Drouin wanted to fight Dylan Larkin, but Larkin, not having spent any significant time in the AHL, wasn't aware of the etiquette involved in that particular situation.
Speaking of Larkin, congratulations to the rookie on his first of many NHL playoff goals. He looked significantly better tonight than he did in Game 1, engaging physically (with a questionably late hit on Drouin in the first) and was using his speed better. He was the only Red Wing forward that looked to be involved all game, and he's the Player of the Game.
There will be people who will defend the Justin Abdelkader penalty in the first period, saying that Tyler Johnson interfered with Abby as they were going up the boards, or that he dove. Maybe Johnson did stay connected to Abby for a little longer than he should have, but it wasn't enough to draw a penalty, and it wasn't nearly enough to warrant Abby's actions, which were to take Johnson's feet out from under him in a slew foot. It was dangerous, it was stupid, and it should have resulted in Abby's ass being planted on the bench for the rest of the game. Because to take a selfish and idiotic penalty like that at that moment of the game when you're already down in the series speaks to a player who can not play with any degree of discipline. And in case you were wondering, Abby got more ice time than any forward not named Henrik Zetterberg or Gustav Nyquist.
Of course, I wrote that entire point above before he went absolutely insane at the end of the game. Look, I get that he "plays with heart" and he's "the only one who cares" and he's "got a lot of passion". But there's a line between being a physical presence and firing your team up and being a liability. Tonight, Abby hindered his team's ability to win a hockey game, and that kind of play is not what you want to see from a supposed leader. Sure, the meatheads will be happy that he made a guy bleed at the end of a game where the Wings got caved in during the third period, again, so I guess some people won't be totally discouraged. Hooray for silver linings!
I'm not sure how to describe that second period. The referees, who were calling a very uneven game up to that point, completely lost control of the game with all of the penalties. Boyle probably should have had a penalty for interference prior to scoring the 2nd Tampa goal. The roughing call on Datsyuk, who lost a tooth immediately prior to that in front of the ref, was terrible. Tampa fans will want Danny DeKeyser to get a call from the league for his hit on Ondrej Palat, and yet it was Tampa that came out of that down a man. Then the refs started calling chintzy hooking and holding penalties on Tampa after letting it go earlier in the period. At the end of the day, the refs do not decide a game, no matter how angry fans of both teams may get at the total lack of consistency displayed by Chris Rooney and Graham Skilliter (a disgrace to the name), and it's up to the players to play through it.
There was some consternation about Jonathan Ericsson being bumped up to play with Danny DeKeyser, and with good reason. While he had a few good plays, he was absolutely torched on the 3rd goal, needlessly stepping up on a guy that was covered by another player and leaving Killorn alone. Make no mistake, if Brendan Smith made that play, he'd be getting ripped apart by internet commenters for years. There is no reason for Ericsson to be in the lineup at this point, and why Smith continues to sit in the Cleary Cabana is an absolute mystery.
That 3rd and 4th Tampa goals involved total meltdowns by forwards, defense and Jimmy Howard. We touched on Ericsson's play on the 3rd goal above, but Howard completely overplayed the pass and got too far out of position. Kronwall was there to cover Johnson, but was passive, and Howard was nowhere to be found, and boom, easy goal. Same with the 4th goal. Kucherov gained the zone and fed Johnson, who wasn't even touched by any of the 3 Wing forwards that were supposed to be covering him, and again, an easy goal. It's those types of mistakes that have been made over and over again by this team all season.
I promised myself I wouldn't talk about Andreas Athanasiou's ice time tonight (7:33!!!!) but one has to wonder what the point of having Joakim Andersson in the lineup is. Jeff Blashill (who I like and respect but who is making me very angry lately) said that it was because he plays hard and is good on PK faceoffs and other things, but he played a team-low 6:52 tonight, including 0:54 of SH time, all at the end of the game after the shenanigans. If he was called up for a specific purpose, and he's not being used in those situations, then why exactly is he in the lineup?
At this point, the Wings have pretty much done the same thing for two games, and it's backfired on them. A lot. At this point, there have to be changes made, because this current lineup looks incapable of winning a game against the Lightning. They're getting dominated by one line, they're unable to cover anyone in their own zone, and they can't generate any consistent offensive pressure. We talked a little bit about following the process, but it's obvious that the process is broken, and it's time to make changes. Put in Petr Mrazek for Jimmy Howard. Put in Brendan Smith for any defenseman not name DeKeyser or Marchenko. Put in Tomas Jurco for Joakim Andersson. Hell, put in Teemu Pulkkinen because at least he's willing to shoot the puck. But if this same lineup and same deployment shows up in Game 3, then we're going to see the same mistakes leading to the same result, and this series will be over before next weekend.
The next game is very obviously a must-win, because going down 3-0 to a team that has shown they can handle you with a fair amount of ease is not a situation you want to be in. The series will shift to Detroit for Game 3 on Sunday, and the Wings will be playing for their playoff lives. If ever this team was going to show us that they have the ability to be a good team and not be one of the worst playoff teams this year, Sunday is it.