BRANDON, Fla. – The Red Wings have dealt with adversity before, but not to this magnitude.
Thursday’s loss was a devastating punch to the sternum for the Wings in their Eastern Conference first-round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Instead of heading back here with a 3-1 series lead – like they should have – and getting a crack at eliminating the Lightning on Saturday, the Wings squandered a two-goal lead and now find themselves in a best-of-three scenario.
The Lightning’s 3-2 comeback win in overtime was still an open wound for the Wings following their 25-minute practice at the Ice Sports Forum on Friday afternoon.
“It’s a shot in the gut anytime you are in a situation where you think you are in a real a good spot and suddenly it goes away that quick,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We played a real good game and in five minutes we end up losing the game, so that’s hard. So you get on the flight and by the time you get here you’ve been feeling sorry for yourself and you got to get regrouped.”
The Wings don’t have much time to pull it all together, though, with Game 5 of the best-of-seven series slated for 6 p.m. Saturday at Amalie Arena.
“It’s a 2-2- series now. It’s a best of three,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “We came in Game 1 and didn’t play our best and it was probably a game that maybe we shouldn’t have won. … They came back to steal Game 4 but I thought we did a lot of good things we can build off, a lot of positives from that game. Obviously it’s not the finish we wanted but you know what? A lot of people never saw us in this position in the first place. It’s 2-2. Now it’s a best of three and we’re confident with the group in here and looking forward to Saturday.”
Throughout the series the Wings have continued to show improvement. Thursday was definitely their best game in nearly a month, and they’ll need to answer the bell Saturday in the Lightning’s building.
“I think the most encouraging thing is we keep getting better and better,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “I thought we didn’t start good. Our first two games in Tampa wasn’t anywhere near the way we want to be. In Game 3 we got better and in Game 4 we took another step. Looks like we’re getting better and better. … If we keep playing like that we’ll be just fine.”
After getting cut by a skate blade late in Thursday’s loss, Luke Glendening’s hand doesn’t hurt as much as the lingering aghast of losing Game 4 does. He needed stitches to repair a deep laceration to his right hand, but said he will play in Game 5.
“Obviously disappointed in the way things ended,” Glendening said. “I thought we played a good game yesterday. We have a lot of things to build on. Now it’s a three-game series, so it’s the first one to four (wins).”
With 7 ½ minutes left in regulation, Glendening was accidentally cut by a Danny DeKeyser skate blade. At the time the Wings held a 2-0 lead when a melee, involving all 10 skaters, broke out in front of the penalty boxes. Glendening and Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman each received roughing minors. However, Glendening went to the Wings’ dressing room where doctors accessed the damaged hand.
Without Glendening, the Lightning’s Tyler Johnson found enough time in space to scored twice, including in overtime. Glendening did a fabulous defensive job in the past two games of bottling up Johnson, the Lightning’s best player in the series with four goals and five points.
“Obviously Glennie was right on top of that line the whole game,” Kronwall said. “But whether he’s in the lineup or not, whether he’s on the ice or not when Johnson’s out there, the rest of us have to do a better job of slowing him down, take away his time and space. We made some mistakes and it cost us.”
Getting Glendening’s line on Johnson has been a priority for the Wings, unfortunately, with the series moving to Tampa for the next game, Lightning coach Jon Cooper gets the last line change and will more than likely try to keep his top-performing line way from the Wings’ grinders.
“He’s a competitive guy and he’s got a couple goals in the series,” Babcock said of Glendening. “He works hard and he does a good job. Obviously, that has a factor in the game but those things happen.”
Glendening was visibly still frustrated by Thursday’s outcome, especially since he said he was close to returning to the game before Johnson ended it at 2:25 of overtime.
Despite the cut, and being unable to finish the game, Glendening has relished the challenge of marking the Lighting’s best player on their top offensive line in this series.
“They’re high-skilled, offensively dynamic. They work, they can all skate,” he said. “They’re good in their own zone as well. They’re a tough line to play against, that’s for sure.
“I just like to help the team in any way I can. If that’s playing against a line like that then good. If I play five minutes and we win, that’s good as well, too. I’m helping any way I can.”
Babcock suspects that the Lightning will revert to tactics used in the first two games of the series by sending the Johnson line out against Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm and Tomas Tatar in Game 5.
“I imagine they’ll have Johnny play against Pav tomorrow and Pav’s got to be up to that, and Glennie will get someone else,” Babcock said. “But that’s part of being at home and part of being on the road. I just think it’s important we keep getting better and that’s what you have to do in a series to be successful.”
SKID ENDS: Forwards Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson scored Thursday, netting their first goals of the 2015 playoffs. It was Nyquist’s third career goal in 27 career postseason games, and his first since Game 3 of the conference semifinals against Chicago on May 20, 2013.
Andersson has two goals in 19 postseason games. Thursday’s second-period goal that gave the Red Wings a 2-0 lead, was his first since Game 6 against the Blackhawks on May 27, 2013.
“Of course I want to help my team out as much as possible. I want to score goals out there and I haven’t been able to do that. I don’t know how many games it was but it obviously felt nice to get one finally.”
NO ROOM TO MOVE: With defenses ratcheting up in the playoffs, space is tight and shots from the perimeter a premium.
The Wings are the only playoff team that doesn’t have a single player with double-digit shots in the first round. Nyquist and Datsyuk each have nine shots on goal. Darren Helm, Henrik Zetterberg and Luke Glendening follow with seven shots each.
The Lightning has six players with 10 or more shots, including Steven Stamkos (15) who hasn’t scored in 11 straight postseason games.
Nashville center Craig Smith leads all NHL players with 29 shots in five games against the Blackhawks.
“I think it any playoff series you watch it’s tight out there,” Nyquist said. “There’s not a lot of chances and you really make sure you bear down on the chances you get and fight for them hard. Usually it’s a bounce or something like that. There’s not many clear-cut plays. It’s tough to score goals.”