No argument here, coach.
Down 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, Detroit played like a team backed into a corner and fighting for its playoff life.
The Lightning just played.
And not very well.
The Lightning were never in the game, which was controlled by the Red Wings from the opening puck drop. The Bolts hardly threatened new Wings goalie Petr Mrazek, who replaced Jimmy Howard after Detroit dropped the first two games of the series. Mrazek spent much of his time in Game 3 watching play unfold on the other end of the ice.
Sunday’s Game 3 in Detroit looked exactly like Game 3 from last season’s first round series when the Red Wings fed off the raucous environment created by the Joe Louis Arena crowd and completely dominated the Lightning in a 3-0 victory.
In that series, Tampa Bay didn’t have an answer for the Red Wings in the Motor City until about six minutes remained in Game 4, when the Lightning engineered one of their greatest playoff comebacks in franchise history.
Will it take as long to overcome the Joe Louis vex this year?
The Bolts fell to 0-3 in Detroit this season following the Game 3 loss.
We’ll take a look at how Detroit got back in the series and the few positives from Sunday night in today’s 3 Things.
1. LACK OF SHOTS DOOMS BOLTS
Petr Mrazek struggled down the stretch for Detroit. The 24-year-old Czech goalie didn’t start any of the Red Wings’ regular season games in April after getting pulled early in a game at Montreal on March 29. He made just one appearance since getting pulled, coming on in relief of Jimmy Howard and stopping all eight shots he face April 7 at Boston.
Mrazek was sure to be a bit rusty after sitting over half a month without regular game action.
Following Game 3, he probably still needs to knock a bit of rust off.
The Lightning certainly didn’t challenge him enough on Sunday to give him a full workout.
Tampa Bay recorded just 16 shots in the 2-0 Game 3 loss with Mrazek in Detroit’s net, their lowest shot output on the road in the playoffs since tallying only 15 in Game 1 of a Second Round series at New Jersey during the 2003 postseason.
With the game still tied following a scoreless opening period, the Lightning could only muster three shots in the second period. Trailing 2-0 in the third, they had four shots.
Seven shots over two periods isn’t going to win you many games, especially in the playoffs.
Mrazek might have played well in Game 3, but we’ll never really know because the Lightning did nothing to make him prove himself.
“I know they switched goaltenders, but I don’t know if they even needed a goaltender tonight to be honest,” Cooper said.
Part of the problem was the work the Red Wings did in the neutral zone to limit the amount of offensive chances. Space was extremely limited on the ice for the Lightning in Game 3, and the Bolts gave the puck away too many times to build the attack.
“We didn’t get pucks deep, and we didn’t make them work in their own end,” Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman said. “Their D corps has very good gaps and when we try to skate the puck in, it’s going to be tough. We knew it was going to be a tough game, but I think our compete level wasn’t high enough.”
And, well, the Lightning simply didn’t shoot the puck enough according to Cooper.
“We had our chances, and every time we were either shooting into shin pads or overpassed,” he said.
2. SCORELESS FIRST PERIOD A WIN FOR LIGHTNING
Inevitably, Detroit was going to come out with a strong push down two games to none and playing on home ice for the first time in the series.
How the Lightning responded would play a big role in the outcome of Game 3.
Or so it was thought.
The Lightning escaped the first period without allowing any goals, even after Detroit had about a minute with a 5-on-3 advantage, a power play the Wings only managed to get two shots out of. The Bolts clogged passing lanes on the 5-on-3 and sold out to block shots. The couple of pucks that did get through, Ben Bishop was there to swat them away.
Going into the first intermission 0-0 had to feel like a victory for the Lightning, almost as if they had taken the lead.
Tampa Bay weathered the storm in the first and would undoubtedly gain more of a foothold in the game in the second.
Unfortunately for the Bolts, more storm clouds were on the horizon.
“That was a big kill for us too,” Tampa Bay defenseman Jason Garrison said. “Usually, something like that creates some momentum. We just couldn’t find anything offensively tonight.”
The second period was more of the first, the puck staying in the Lightning end for much of the 20 minutes. The Bolts continued to take penalties – Detroit had seven power plays on the night – and could never get into a rhythm offensively as a result.
“We just took too many penalties,” Bishop said when asked if he thought things would be different in the second period after surviving the first. “We were shorthanded most of the night.”
Andreas Athanasiou finally broke the deadlock with his one-time howitzer from the left circle, the Lightning giving up the game’s opening goal for the first time in the series.
They didn’t have the will on Sunday to overcome the deficit.
“(Detroit) played really hard,” Cooper said. “Their desperation level was higher than ours…The more desperate team won the hockey game tonight.”
3. LIGHTNING PENALTY KILL THE BOLTS’ ONLY STAR
Say what you will about the number of calls that went against Tampa Bay in Game 3, whether it was home cooking, Original 6 bias, undisciplined play, etc., the Lightning didn’t lose because they couldn’t stay out of the penalty box.
And that’s because the Bolts’ penalty kill was outstanding again Sunday night, pretty much like it has been all season.
Detroit had seven power-play opportunities in Game 3.
They came up empty on all seven.
The Lightning currently own the second-best penalty kill (94.1 percent) of the playoffs having allowed just one goal over 17 shorthanded situations.
And the Lightning have been on the penalty kill more than any other team in the playoffs. Washington, the lone team with a better postseason penalty kill (100 percent) than the Bolts, has been shorthanded just eight times.
“We’ve had a pretty good penalty kill all year,” Cooper said. “We struggled in probably our first 10 games and over the last 72 into the playoffs, we’ve been pretty good back there. If we do break down, Bish has been there to bail us out. You look at a game like that and you give them seven power plays and they get nothing out of it, you’d think that would be a boost for us. But it also took a lot out of us the amount of penalties we had to kill.”
The key for the Lightning moving forward in the series will be to stay out of the box. But that might be easier said than done as the referees aren’t letting too much go. The Lightning and Red Wings have combined for 31 power plays through three games.
The next highest combined power-play total for a First Round series?
20, in the St. Louis-Chicago series
“That’s a couple games in a row now where we’ve been in the box a lot,” Bolts forward Ryan Callahan said. “We’re not going to win hockey games doing that.”