DETROIT — Just 1:16 of ice time separated Petr Mrazek from history.
Surrendering two goals on consecutive shots in the final five minutes of regulation would squander the Red Wings goaltender’s bid at becoming the first rookie since 1937 to post back-to-back shutouts in NHL playoff games.
Goals from Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Tyler Johnson and Andrej Palat tied the score in the waning moments of Game 4 before going on to claim a 3-2 win in overtime and splitting the series at two games apiece.
“Well, they scored two quick ones there in the end and then they came out and scored a third one in overtime,” forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “So, I thought we played a good game all the way up to when they scored their first one. Obviously they got the momentum and we got a little bit on our heels. But we had enough chances to score the third one before they got the first one. But 2-2 going into Game 5 here.”
On the heels of his first postseason shutout in Game 3, Mrazek seemed to be in a zone through the first two periods of Game 4, turning away 22 shots in the first 40 minutes. Collectively, the 23-year-old goaltender had blanked the top-ranked offense in the NHL for 174:34 at home before surrendering a goal to the Lightning at Joe Louis Arena.
For a team that scored 259 goals in the regular season, Tampa was sure to have a surge at some point. With just 5:26 remaining, center Tyler Johnson came streaking down the ice and chipped the puck over Mrazek’s right shoulder and ended the scoring drought for the Lightning.
That one goal set off a spark on the Tampa Bay bench.
“I think we had gone probably eight periods without scoring a goal in this building but as soon as we got that one, we grew a couple inches on the bench," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It was like a weight off our shoulders and clearly the game changed at that moment when we scored that goal. You could just tell our guys had a fire in them that was not gonna be put out.”
As one turned into two and two turned into overtime, the game went past regulation for the first time in the series and it didn’t last long.
Just 2:25 into overtime, Johnson would score his second goal of the game after a Wings failed to hold the blue line in the offensive zone. Defenseman Danny DeKeyser scrambled to regain possession but both the puck and the defender passed by him quickly.
The turnover in the neutral zone resulted in a 3-on-1 rush for the Lightning with defenseman Victor Hedman leading the charge down the ice. Hedman sent a pass left-to-right across Mrazek’s crease to Johnson who one-timed the puck into an open net.
“When you think about it right there, for as well as we played, those are three crucial mistakes in a short period of time,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “They’re all on us, they’re our responsibility. It’s not something they did, it’s something we did. But that’s part of the game, you gotta play the whole 60 minutes.”
The Lightning was opportunistic capitalizing on Red Wing mistakes late in the game. If not for a few miscues, Mrazek’s bid at history might have been solidified.
“I didn’t know what he was supposed to do,” Babcock said. “That’s the problem with the plays. I think we made the mistakes ourselves. I’ve looked at each goal but I haven’t spent the amount of time I’ll spend on the flight on it, but I thought he was fine tonight. I didn’t think he was tested a ton. I thought he was fine.”
On a flight to Tampa Bay immediately following Game 4, the series is now tied at two games apiece and the first-round Eastern Conference quarterfinal is now a best-of-3 situation.
While Mrazek’s bid at becoming just the second rookie goalie in NHL history to post back-to-back shutouts — and the first since the 1937 Stanley Cup finals — was spoiled by late-game errors, the mistakes are at least fixable. With Game 5 on Saturday, a quick turnaround will be needed and Mrazek knows that.
“A bit disappointment for us right now, but it’s over,” he said. “We have to let it go and get ready for our next game.”