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Second line stays on fire in 4-1 loss

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Riley Sheahan and his linemates have been on fire lately, but they were unable to overcome the Maple Leafs Saturday night. (Photo by Getty Images)

TORONTO – The Red Wings may have found a formidable second-line combination to give opposing teams fits.

The recently-formed line of Justin Abdelkader, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar continued their en fuego ways Saturday night.

However, the line wasn’t able to create enough sparks to help the Red Wings overcome a disappointing third period in a 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.

“Yeah, they’ve been really great for us,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “Those guys played really good for us last year, maybe didn’t have the start that they wanted but they’ve been on fire here lately. They’re really good players and the plays they made today I think they could have had three or four goals. It’s fun to see.”

A reoccurring groin injury to Pavel Datsyuk caused the coaching staff to juggle line combinations earlier in the week, and Abdelkader was moved to Sheahan’s line to play opposite Tatar, who is on an incredible hot streak in the last few weeks.

Since the switch, which occurred after last Sunday’s loss to Montreal, the new line has combined to produce six goals and 11 points in three games, including Saturday’s lone tally.

“I really liked their effort,” coach Mike Babcock said. “(Darren) Helm’s line and Sheahan’s line were our best lines on the trip. They’ve been good.”

Trailing 1-0 in the second period, Tatar rejuvenated the Wings with a gem of a goal from low in the left face-off circle. Rookie defenseman Xavier Ouellet, who picked up his first career point on the play, made an outstanding diagonal pass from above the right circle. Brian Lashoff also earned an assist on the equalizing goal at 10:28 of the middle frame.

“They played great for us. They got us a big goal,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said of the second line. “A few shifts after that they were coming for more. They’re been playing real well for us. It’s huge to have depth in your lineup.”

Tatar, who now has 11 points in the past 11 games, is now tied with Gustav Nyquist for the team lead in goals with nine.

The Red Wings were trying to stretch their modest win streak to three straight for the first time this season, but their chances were extinguished when the Leafs went on a three-goal blitz in the third period, which included a demoralizing short-hand goal.

“You think you got a chance of winning the game right there and it goes the other way,” Kronwall said. “Of course it’s a little frustrating, no doubt.”

Abdelkader’s speed and hustle helped lead to Stephane Robidas picking up his first of two third-period infractions when he received a minor boarding penalty at 3:34. Unfortunately, the ensuing faceoff in the Leafs’ zone resulted in a Wings’ turnover that Tyler Bozak capitalized on 10 seconds later when he scored a short-handed, breakaway goal on Jimmy Howard, which re-established Toronto’s one-goal lead.

“We were set up real good going in the third,” Babcock said. “I thought we had really played well in the second period, in my opinion dominated the second period and we were set up good. We were on the power play, turned it over and had an entry again where we turned the puck over. Anytime you turn pucks over they’re going to bite you. We should attack the net on those plays and we didn’t and in the net we dug it out of our net

“When you win the first two games of a road trip you like to be greedy, you want to win all three. I thought we were set up to do that and we didn’t do that.”

The Wings won the first two games of their three-game trip with a 5-0 victory at Columbus on Tuesday, followed by a 4-3 decision at Winnipeg on Thursday.

Down 2-1, the Wings had another power-play opportunity when Robidas was send off for hooking Tatar, however, the Wings couldn’t score the tying goal late. Detroit’s power play, which has been hot of late scoring 10 goals on 31 man advantages, was blanked – on three chances – for just the second time in the past eight games.

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