Red Wings Lose, Series Only 1 Game, World Ends
If it wasn't a rivalry before, it may be one now.
The Red Wings and Lightning kicked off the NHL Playoffs with their Game 1 match up, and unlike last year, the Wings were unable to jump out to an early series lead. 2 goals from Nikita Kucherov and another monster game from Tyler Johnson were too much for the Red Wings, who once again couldn't generate any consistent offense as they fell to Tampa 3-2.
Unlike me, who nearly vomited up my fajitas all over my laptop from nerves, the Wings came out with a little bit of fire. Using their speed, they got in on the Tampa defense and had the first 6 shots on goal. Unfortunately, the Lightning got on the board first when Nikita Kucherov absolutely blasted a rocket past Jimmy Howard. Red Wing killer Tyler Johnson had the primary assist. The Red Wings had an opportunity to get back in the game with their first power play of the series. Andrej Sustr was called for tripping Tomas Tatar in front of the Tampa net, and the Wings' PP, which was good towards the end of the season, went to work. Unfortunately NIklas Kronwall negated that with a slashing penalty 25 seconds in, but the Wings killed the small penalty. The Wings had a ton of problems staying on their feet due to garbage ice in a garbage arena, but escaped the period without any further damage being inflicted.
Score: 1-0 Lightning
Shots: 13-8 Red Wings
Strong Period: Gustav Nyquist
Tough Period: Niklas Kronwall
The period began 4-on-4 after some late penalties in the first, with the Wings getting a 9 second power play that they blew. Detroit got on the board after one of their few faceoff wins early in the game. Danny DeKeyser fed a pass over to Mike Green, and his point shot beat Ben Bishop and the game was tied. Less than 2 minutes later, the Wings got their first lead of the game when Kyle Quincey's point shot was deflected in somehow by Justin Abdelkader. The Wings nearly got a third goal, but a tipped puck went just wide. Jonathan Drouin took a penalty for roughing on Alexey Marchenko, and the Wings had a few great chances, but Bishop made a good save on Brad Richards. The Lightning tied the game, again thanks to Kucherov. After a scramble at the Wings' blueline, the Lightning entered the zone and Kucherov collected his own rebound under Howard. Things got a little heated after that, with Tampa turning into giant pissbabies and acting like turds after every whistle because they have to live in Tampa. The period ended tied with Tampa continuing to try to gum the Wings' fingers at every opportunity.
Shots: 26-20 Red Wings
Strong Period: Andreas Athanasiou
Tough Period: Danny DeKeyser
The Wings didn't relent in their pressure on the Lightning, getting more chances on Bishop and spending more time in Tampa's zone. The Wings got their 5th power play of the night when Drouin took another penalty, and Nyquist sent a shot just over the crossbar but couldn't score. Tampa appeared to take the lead, but Jeff Blashill challenged the goal and it was determined that Drouin was offside, so the goal was correctly overturned. Unfortunately, the Wings didn't respond the way we would want, as Alex Killorn tipped in a Tyler Johnson pass after Darren Helm had his pocket picked. Tampa turned it on, spending the next several minutes in the Wings' zone. Abdelkader took an interference penalty, but the Wings did a good job killing it. The Wings had a few chances late with Howard pulled, but couldn't beat Bishop and Tampa took Game 1.
Score: 3-2 Lightning
Shots: 36-34 Red Wings
Strong Period: Pavel Datsyuk
Tough Period: Darren Helm
Player of the Game: Mike Green
Points of Observation
The Red Wings had a number of shots in the first two periods where Bishop gave up large rebounds. However, as was the case all game, the Wings were unable to the front of the net to collect those rebounds or second chances. The Wings will have to do a better job of getting through the Tampa defense, particularly since they are not a very mobile group, and take advantage of Bishop leaving pucks in front of the net like that.
No one knows why the Red Wings were unable to stay on their skates in the first period, but my money is on the ice being a tire fire because Florida should be literally cut off and allowed to float away.
There will be a lot of second-guessing of some of the lineup decisions made by Jeff Blashill, with the hot takes being Joakim Andersson over Tomas Jurco or Jimmy Howard over Petr Mrazek. However, Howard was fine, and certainly wasn't the reason for the loss. Rebound control on the 2nd goal wasn't great, but Kucherov shouldn't be allowed to get to the front of the net that easily. The other two goals were a laser and a tip in front, neither of which he's got much of a chance on. Andersson wasn't great, but he set up Riley Sheahan for a quality chance on the penalty kill and looked decent out there.
The blame, if we're going there, lies with the veterans, particularly Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm. I could see what Abby was doing by trying to engage the Lightning physically and play "playoff hockey". But there's a line between being physical and being an idiot, and Abby crossed it several times. He took himself out of plays by trying to make a hit, and when playing with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg (the latter of whom was very ineffective again), and with the Wings trying to mount a comeback, he engaged with Ondrej Palat well behind the play to negate a rush.
Helm was the victim on the 2nd and 3rd Lightning goals. On the 2nd goal, he completely blew his coverage down low and allowed Kucherov to get both a first and second shot away, and on the 3rd goal, he was caught from behind along the boards after failing to protect the puck. I know the concern is that the rookies are going to be the ones to make mistakes at crucial times, but I can say with 100% certainty that I'm feeling a lot less wall-punchy if Athanasiou or Mantha or Larkin is the one making that mistake because they haven't played 7 years' worth of playoff series before tonight.
At the end of the day, the Wings were undone by a few defensive breakdowns, an inability to shut down the Lightning top line, and a failure to maintain the momentum they had built up over the first 40 minutes. Through 2 periods, the Wings looked pretty good, and it could be argued that they were the better team. Unfortunately, the Lightning turned it on in the third, outshooting the Wings 14-10 and outattempting them 18-8 at even strength. That's a concern, but not a glaring one, as only one Tampa line really did anything offensively. The Wings have plenty of work to do, and by no means did they play a perfect game, or even a complete game good enough to win. But the adjustments the Wings need to make to win Game 2 and go home with a split are smaller than I expected them to be heading into this series.
I'm torn between being encouraged that they had an opportunity to win the game while looking pretty good for the majority of the game and being concerned that the same issues and mistakes we've seen all year reared their heads once again tonight. However, I think I was more worried after Game 1 of last year when the Wings had their faces caved in but Mrazek saved their bacon. Ultimately it's only one loss in a 7 game series, and since I'm an old man who likes to see the positive side of things, there's reason to be optimistic that they can and will win this series.