DETROIT — The Lightning considered Saturday night's game with the Red Wings a chance to measure the team's progress.
So you would expect Tampa Bay to be feeling pretty good about itself after a 3-2 overtime win at Joe Louis Arena.
But did you expect this bit of bravado?
"I learned that our team can play with the big boys," coach Jon Cooper said.
"We're proving," center Steven Stamkos said, "that we're for real."
At the very least the Lightning — 12-4-0, first in the Eastern Conference, winner of four straight and seven of eight — is on a heck of a role.
Teddy Purcell got the winner with 1:09 left in the extra period with a wrist shot from the slot after a hustle-and-pass play by Richard Panik, who won a race for the puck along the end boards.
"We didn't get intimidated," said Purcell, whose fifth goal of the season was his first in 10 games. "We kept finding a way. It's great for your confidence, especially on the road."
Especially in a city in which the Lightning has been so bad. It entered the game 1-13-0 with a tie in Detroit and winless in 11 straight (0-10-0 with a tie), and winless in eight straight vs. Detroit overall (0-7-0 with a tie).
And especially considering the story line. Ryan Malone's first-period goal that made the score 1-1 was his second of the season and first in 10 games. Stamkos' 14th goal tied for the league lead. Goalie Ben Bishop earned his league-best 11th win with 25 saves.
The game turned, though, in the second period when the Lightning killed 6:48 of penalty time — all but 13 seconds continuous and including 36 seconds of five-on-three — and four seconds later got Stamkos' wrist shot goal for a 2-1 lead with 7:10 left.
"The guys were focused," Cooper said. "It was positive all around. There was no, 'I can't believe you took that penalty.' Everybody was picking each other up saying, 'We're killing this off.' "
"The turning point of the game," Stamkos said. "Guys were sacrificing. It was a huge momentum swing for us."
Henrik Zetterberg's rocket from the right faceoff circle that deflected off Valtteri Filppula's stick tied the score 2-2 with 4:12 left in the third. But all that did was set up Purcell.
"Every time they pushed, we pushed back," Cooper said.
That's how you play with the big boys.
First—1, Det, Zetterberg 9, 3:51. 2, TB, Malone 2 (Carle, Thompson), 10:11. Penalties—Datsyuk, Det (interference), 10:53.
Second—3, TB, Stamkos 14 (Hedman), 12:50. Penalties—Sustr, TB (hooking), 5:09; TB bench, served by Purcell (too many men), 7:22; Thompson, TB, double minor (high-sticking), 8:46; Quincey, Det (hooking), 13:33.
Third—4, Det, Zetterberg 10 (DeKeyser), 15:48. Penalties—Cleary, Det (hooking), 11:45.
OT—5, TB, Purcell 5 (Panik), 3:51. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—TB 13-8-9-4—34. Det 7-15-5-0—27. Power-play opportunities—TB 0 of 3; Det 0 of 4. Goalies—TB, Bishop 11-2-0 (27 shots-25 saves). Det, Howard 5-5-4 (34-31).