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Wings must minimize Lightning's speed

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings have to find a way to slow Tyler Johnson and his linemates in Game 2. Johnson's line was in on all three Lighting goals in Game 1. (Photo by Getty Images)

TAMPA, Fla. – Countering the Tampa Bay Lightning’s speed will be a chief adjustment for the Red Wings heading into Friday’s Game 2 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.

“Just got to try to have tighter gaps,” Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser said Thursday. “Their first goal last night, we weren't up tight enough so they made the play in front of us. But they also have good speed so you have to expect the speed wide. It's tough to defend them but it's what you've got to do."

The Lightning’s first goal was created by speed. Center Tyler Johnson ripped through the neutral zone before feeding a pass to Nikita Kucherov, who ripped a rocket of a shot on a one timer from the right faceoff circle handcuffing Jimmy Howard.

Kucherov scored two goals in the Lightning's 3-2 win over the Red Wings in Game 1 on Wednesday night.

In the third period of a tie game, Victor Hedman scored on a similar rush. Though that goal was later reversed by video replay for being offside, it showcased the Lightning’s speed up the middle.

The Wings know they need to minimize the Johnson line’s speed through the center line.

“They’re great in open ice,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “They can make plays in small areas. So we’ve got to make sure we do the best that we can of taking away time and space. We’ve got to make sure our defensive positioning is a little better than it was. We’ve got to make it harder to get to our net."

The Johnson line accounted for seven points in Game 1. Aside from Kucherov's two goals and an assist, Alex Killorn had a goal and an assist, and Johnson collected two assists.

“Obviously they're a fast line, very talented, very dangerous as well,” Wings forward Darren Helm said. “They got a few opportunities where we turned over the puck or we didn't have a good F-3. I think if we do a little better job with our high forward, make sure we play in their end a little more, obviously that takes them out of the game a little bit. They're three guys that will capitalize on chances. We got to find ways to limit that and one of the ways is play in their zone, making sure we have guys back where we need them.”


STRUGGLING GOOSE: Gustav Nyquist’s short time in the NHL has produced a small sample size in which to judge what he’s done, or not done, in the playoffs.

In 30 postseason contests, the Wings’ fourth-round pick in the 2008 NHL draft, has amassed three goals and just one in the past 18 games.

“I got to score more goals. Simple as that. I don't know what else to say,” said Nyquist, who scored a goal in Game 4’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Lightning last spring.

Nyquist’s last playoff goal before then came in Game 3 of the 2013 Western Conference semifinals against Chicago.

The frustration level is high but Nyquist promises he’s not over-thinking the situation nor is he squeezing the stick too tightly. “I'm shooting the same way,” he said. “Just a matter of hitting the net and it would be nice to see them go in.”

Getting Nyquist and Tomas Tatar going offensively is definitely vital if the Wings are to have any success against the Lightning and goalie Ben Bishop. But Blashill believes the same can be said for any of the Wings’ forward lines.

“From a process standpoint I think there's lots of good stuff there that if he keeps doing that I think the puck will go in,” Blashill said. “He had an unbelievable opportunity that Bishop made the save with his shoulder on. He's somebody that has been at different times a big piece of our puzzle and the better he plays the better we are. But in the end what we need is more goals than our opponent on any given night."


ROOKIE LOW: Dylan Larkin learned Wednesday that the Stanley Cup playoffs are far different than the NHL’s regular season. Larkin, who led the Red Wings with 23 goals during the season, logged just 11:30 of ice time – a season low for the rookie – in Wednesday’s Game 1 loss to the Lightning.

His previous ice-time low came one day after he had the stomach flu. In that game, he logged just 11:41 during a 1-0 overtime loss at the New York Rangers on February 21.

“When you get opportunities, do everything you can to score but try not to force opportunities out there,” Blashill said. “As a young player, you’ve got to balance that. You want to attack but you don’t want to force. Anytime in life when you force things it usually ends up bad. It’s the same thing on the hockey rink. That balance is critical for a guy like Dylan to understand. You want to attack. When there’s opportunities to make plays, make plays, and if there aren’t opportunities to make plays, live another day. I thought he did a good job of that last night. I think he got a quick taste of how physical the game is, that it increases as the games go on but that stuff doesn’t bother Dylan at all. He’s got a great, great toughness to him.”


FINNISH FLASH: Zetterberg said he was fine a day after he was slashed across the hands by former teammate Valtteri Filppula late in Wednesday’s Game 1.

Words were exchanged but Zetterberg declined to comment Thursday only saying, “What happens out there stays out there.”

Filppula was more candid about his brief encounter with Zetterberg.

“I think I slashed him a little bit and he just let me know not to do that again,” Filppula said. “It was I think the second to last faceoff right outside the zone. I’m not sure. I think I got him in the hand. I obviously hope he’s OK.”

Blashill said everyone who played Wednesday, including Zetterberg, is available for Game 2, “but I’ll know that more tomorrow.”


FEISTY SERIES OPENER: In most playoff series tempers eventually flare, but the fuse was lit early between the Red Wings and Lightning when Tampa defenseman Braydon Coburn picked up a four-minute minor for roughing up Larkin behind the Red Wings’ net midway through the second period.

Blashill was asked if he would consider playing Brendan Smith on Friday to add some grit to the Wings' lineup. While the coach said the lineup hasn't been decided, he didn't appear concerned by the after-whistle scrums either.

The Red Wings and Lightning each totaled 18 penalty minutes in the series opener.

“We want to make sure we do a great job between whistles,” Blashill said. “Certainly, Brendan brings a toughness that can be an element in those situations. I’m not worried about guys pushing each other back and forth. That doesn’t do much. In fact, I thought the refs did a great job of policing that. What we need to do is make sure we’re taking hits to make plays that we’re making it hard on them, all the stuff between whistles that matter during the game.”

Detroit amassed 82 penalty minutes – that’s 11:42 minutes per game – in its playoff series with Tampa Bay last spring.

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