Alex Lyon

DETROIT -- Alex Lyon laughed when he heard the buildup for the game.

“You’re making me nervous,” he joked.

Yes, when the Detroit Red Wings host the Florida Panthers at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday (3 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+), the goalie will play against the team he helped reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

It will be a matchup of two of the best teams in the NHL over the past two months, less than a week before the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline at 3 p.m. ET on March 8, amid a playoff race, on national TV in the United States.

The Panthers (40-16-4) have the best record in the NHL (.700 points percentage). Since Jan. 1, they lead the League (.792), followed by the Edmonton Oilers (.761), the Carolina Hurricanes (.739) and the Red Wings (.739).

But the 31-year-old goalie doesn’t look at it like that.

“I think you get better at compartmentalizing those things,” he said. “You look at the best athletes who always thrive in the best moments, and they’re the ones that have the ability to execute their normal operation at very critical moments. They’re not going above and beyond.

“It’s like the Tom Brady mentality. If you put pressure on yourself during practice, all of the sudden those moments become simple, and you have a game plan. And so, that’s what it’s really about for me. I think as a goalie, that’s the way you think about it. You’re not trying to go out there and do extra. You’ve got to go out there and just do your thing.”

After spending seven seasons mostly in the American Hockey League -- coming up to the NHL for 22 games with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2017-21, two games with the Hurricanes in 2021-22 and 15 with the Panthers last season -- Lyon is spending a full season in the NHL for the first time.

He has played 29 games for the Red Wings (33-21-6), including 22 of their past 25, and is 18-9-2 with a 2.74 goals-against average, a .912 save percentage and two shutouts. He’s a huge reason they hold the first wild card in the Eastern Conference and have a chance to end their seven-season playoff drought.

“Alex Lyon, to me, is the MVP of this team,” former Red Wings forward Darren McCarty said on Woodward Sports Network this week.

But to Lyon, this is nothing new.

He has had a heavy workload before. He won the longest game in AHL history -- making 94 saves in 146:48 in a 2-1 five-overtime win for Lehigh Valley against Charlotte in the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs -- and that was the second game of a back-to-back set.

He has had success before. He won the Calder Cup with Chicago of the AHL in 2021-22, and he went 6-1-1 with a 1.87 GAA and .943 save percentage in Florida’s last eight regular-season games last season. The Panthers earned the second wild card in the East, one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres, and then went to the Stanley Cup Final.

He has defeated the Panthers already this season, making 32 saves in a 3-2 win at FLA Live Arena on Jan. 17.

“I just feel like I’m doing my thing and playing my game,” he said. “In terms of the NHL context, this is the first time so many people have had exposure to Alex Lyon, but Alex Lyon has had exposure to Alex Lyon for 20 years of goaltending.

“So, for me, I’m just doing the same thing, trying to stick to the same habits and details and positivity and all those things. That’s pretty much all you can do, is just take it at face value and not try to go too far into the mental weeds on it or anything like that. Just play hard and have fun and enjoy the moment.”

It’s an impressive mindset.

“He’s such a cerebral guy, goaltender, the way he looks at the position,” said Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde, a former goalie. “Basically, he’s relating all these experiences to the success he had in the American Hockey League.

“This workload would be nothing for him in the American Hockey League, and it’s a lot different there. You get some tough travel, some tough back-to-backs. It’s different at the NHL level. Just for him to talk like that, I think, says a lot about him and how he approaches things.”

Lalonde said the Red Wings must be smart about how they handle Lyon, and Lyon has to be smart too. Lyon is certainly smart enough not to get too worked up about facing his former team again Saturday.

“I think when you move around a lot, you get less emotional,” he said. “You can only stay angry at so many organizations.”

He laughed.

“I have a lot of respect for them, and they do a good job there, and they have a very good team,” he continued. “I think you’ve just got to enjoy the moment and look forward to kind of seeing where you’re at. They’re a really good team, and it’s going to be a big test for us.”