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Red Wings Weekend Recap: Win some, lose some

Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

After spending almost the entire 2023-24 season in playoff position, the Red Wings entered St. Patrick’s Day weekend on the outside looking in. A near-catastrophic slide in March saw the Wings face opponents good, bad, and ugly, and yet the Wings have been unable to muster a single point in the standings since late February. Fortunately, the competition for the final two Wild Card spots in the Eastern Conference has been fairly middling of late with the Lightning, Flyers, Islanders, and Capitals failing to create much separation. The Wings are still very much alive in the playoff race, but they have to start winning now and keep winning to get there. A back-to-back this weekend with fellow bubble teams Buffalo and Pittsburgh offer four points the Wings desperately need.

Saturday: Buffalo at Detroit

Of the Eastern Conference Wild Card hopefuls, Buffalo has arguably been the best team over the past few weeks. Tage Thompson and Company have always seemed to give Detroit fits, and Detroit’s Captain remains sidelined with a lower body injury.

The first period had a moderate edge to the Sabres throughout with the Wings struggling on both ends of the ice. Which is to say this is one of the best periods the Wings have played all month. The Wings were never dominated, but when they created their own chances they struggled mightily to finish them. There were also tons of sloppy passes and frustrating giveaways in the defensive and neutral zones that kept play tilting back towards Reimer. A rather careless tripping penalty by Patrick Kane in the defensive zone led to the first power play of the game. Tage Thompson quickly put the puck five-hole past Reimer who, as of this writing, still hasn’t reacted to the shot.

End 1 – BUF 1 DET 0

The standout forwards in the first period were really Austin Czarnik and Christian Fischer who predictably brought energy but no results. Moritz Seider, however, was the true difference maker. Throughout the period and indeed the rest of the game, he consistently bailed out his teammates’ mistakes and brought a level of physicality we haven’t seen too often since his rookie season.

The second period didn’t start off much better. Less than a minute into the period, Michael Rasmussen was sent to the sin bin for a pretty egregious interference by the benches. Copp and Compher put on another killing clinic, and Compher nearly converted a shorthanded goal after some really fancy puckhandling. The penalty was killed, and the ice began to finally tilt in Detroit’s favor.

So often it seems when a team has been on an endless ride on the struggle bus, the turnaround begins with a gutsy greasy effort from the unlikeliest of places. Check out this goal from Christian Fischer to get the Wings on the board:

The goal infused a palpable energy into the entire team. Rasmussen, Copp, and Fischer were extremely noticeable for the rest of the game (in a good way) for the ability to neutralize Thompson’s line and dictate pace and possession. Hardly time to breathe any sigh of relief just yet, though. After another inept Detroit power play midway through the frame, multiple strong shifts created great chances that just seemed to have no hope of finding twine. It was tough not to expect the Wings’ goal-scoring struggles to continue. This really came to a head late in the period when the Wings missed about 30 consecutive shots on a wide open net. The sky was certainly about to fall when the puck inexplicably found its way to Patrick Kane’s tape.

End 2 – DET 2 BUF 1

According to the insufferable NHLN broadcast, this is the first time since the Reagan administration that the Red Wings have begun a period with a lead. The third period stayed tight with both teams struggling in their offensive zones. The Wings weren’t tentative or sitting back trying to protect a lead, but they were rather cautious and kept almost every rush to the outside. The Sabres on the other hand were just sloppy with the puck. Lots of mishandling as they entered the zone and passing way off the mark. Again, big credit to Rasmussen-Copp-Fischer for shutting down Buffalo’s best forwards, but I think the rest of them were just terrified of Mo Seider.

At 13:52 of the third, Daniel Sprong, who has been struggling more than most in recent weeks, snapped one home from the half wall that Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is definitely going to want back.

The Sabres pulled their goalie early, but never really threatened much. Lucas Raymond put a really satisfying empty netter bow on this win to mercifully end the 0-7-0 streak.

Final – DET 4 BUF 1

Sunday: Detroit at Pittsburgh

The Red Wings head to West PA to build on yesterday’s momentum against a Guentzless Penguins squad. Both teams are on the second half of a back-to-back; the Penguins gave up a touchdown to the Rangers on Saturday night. Rasmussen-Copp-Fischer will presumably remain reunited. Hopefully they, Seider, and the rest of the Detroit defense can find an effective way to shut down Crosby, Malkin, and their grandchildren and generate some fun offense.

NOT the first period the Red Wings needed. They virtually dominated the first 10 minutes of the game even in spite of the Penguins having two power plays during that stretch. As the second penalty expired, some fluky puck behavior gave Reilly Smith a goal. The Wings were able to answer 5 minutes later with an absolute rocket of a wrister from Lucas Raymond.

The final four minutes of the period were horrendous for the Red Wings. Lots of puck watching and pillow-soft defensive efforts allowed a Crosby backhander at 18:53 and a goal for rookie Valtteri Puustinen just 23 seconds later. Worse yet is Crosby’s goal was immediately preceded by a Detroit 3-on-1 opportunity. Rasmussen elected to shoot and missed the net by 15 inches to spring Crosby’s line the other way.

End 1 – PIT 3 DET 1

It got worse. The Wings had a slightly more balanced effort in the second period, and it’s never an excuse, but the referees made sure to keep everything a slanted in Pittsburgh’s favor as possible. Awful refereeing and awful Gostisbehere combined for a couple more Penguins goals. Christian Fischer also got himself another goal, this one from a knee rather than his belly.

End 2 – PIT 5 DET 2

The Wings needed 3 goals in the final frame to even things up. They waited five minutes to even try to get the first, apparently content to let Lyon be the only one in White to do anything positive. Lyon made three unbelievable uncontested saves against Evgeni Malkin to maintain the three goal deficit, and his teammates rewarded him with a one-and-done rush moments later and then just about nothing else. The referees hijacked the game script quite a bit in the second, but the lack of any semblance of success down three in the third is unforgivable.

The Wings get a power play with four and a half to go. The Wings pull the goalie for a 6-on-4 with free 200-foot shots on the empty net for the Pens, but Raymond is able to convert from the slot for his second of the game. The Wings pull Lyon after the goal, and consistent with the rest of the game the referees refused to call even an obvious icing on the Penguins and after 40 shot attempts the Pens hit the empty net and that’ll do it.

Final – PIT 6 DET 3

Positivity Corner!

14 games remain. Four of those games are against Florida, Toronto, Carolina, and the Rangers. The other 10 are not only against the non-elite, but many are against the very teams Detroit is battling for a wild card berth. The Islanders have now lost four in a row allowing the Red Wings to maintain their hold on the 2nd Wild Card slot. In many ways, the Red Wings are still very much in control of their own destiny, and Dylan Larkin’s return is hopefully imminent. The Pittsburgh game was exceedingly frustrating, but this weekend still produced 2 points out of a possible 4. 50% the rest of the way would take Detroit to 88 points. It looks very likely that 94 points will get you a berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and the Red Wings’ play of late can only improve. Can they keep the 50% from this weekend moving forward and find just six more itty bitty little points along the way?

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