TAMPA — The Lightning got a sobering message from the Red Wings on Thursday night at the St. Pete Times Forum:
If you really want to play with the big boys, this is the level you have to reach.
Detroit won 6-2 in a game played at a pace and with a level of discipline Tampa Bay had not previously encountered.
"This is the best team we met all year, no questions asked," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "We have a ways to go to get to that level, and we've got two months to get there (before the playoffs)."
Adding insult was the largely red-clad sellout crowd of 20,849 that Detroit wing Danny Cleary said made it feel "like we were playing at home."
Octopi, a tradition at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena, were even thrown from the stands after Pavel Datsyuk and Darren Helm scored in the third.
Worse, a Lightning employee helping clean the ice waved an octopus over his head in celebration, which could not have sat well with the players or organization.
"It is what it is," center Nate Thompson said. "It's not in our control. We just play the game, and whatever fans do, that happens."
The Lightning (34-18-6) has hit a speed bump nine games into a 12-game homestand. It is 5-3-1 overall but 2-3-1 in its past six.
The Red Wings, on the other hand, were textbook playing as a five-man unit. They were perfectly positioned, for the most part. When they weren't, they had the speed on defense to compensate.
Not that the Lightning went down easily. It had a 40-31 shot advantage, and in the second, goals by Victor Hedman and Steve Downie made the score 2-2.
But a questionable interference call on Vinny Lecavalier, who seemed pushed into goaltender Jimmy Howard, led to Niklas Kronwall's power-play goal off the skates of Tampa Bay's Sean Bergenheim and Hedman.
Eighty-six second later, Justin Abdelkader scored on a tap-in with 2:00 left to make it 4-2.
"We got a call there that killed the game," Boucher said of Lecavalier's penalty. "We had the momentum, had the drive. If we would have kept that goal out, we would have had a chance."
A more efficient power play might have helped. Tampa Bay was 0-for-5 with the extra man, including a four-minute advantage in the first period with Detroit ahead 1-0.
Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson gave up a few too many rebounds, and loose defensive coverages helped Detroit to a 2-0 first-period lead.
Mostly, though, it came down to this: "We just got beat by a better team," Boucher said. "This is the standard in our league."
Added Lecavalier: "We've got to learn from this."
First Period—1, Detroit, Cleary 18 (Lidstrom, Zetterberg), 6:40 (pp). 2, Detroit, Datsyuk 15 (Cleary, Kronwall), 14:57. Penalties—R.Jones, TB (closing hand on puck), 5:01; Hudler, Det (tripping), 6:51; Kindl, Det, double minor (high-sticking), 9:13.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Hedman 3 (Gagne), 11:51. 4, Tampa Bay, Downie 8 (Stamkos, St. Louis), 14:38. 5, Detroit, Kronwall 10 (Zetterberg, Lidstrom), 16:34 (pp). 6, Detroit, Abdelkader 4 (Holmstrom, Kindl), 18:00. Penalties—Roloson, TB, served by Bergeron (delay of game), 7:53; Lecavalier, TB (goaltender interference), 15:23; Ericsson, Det (tripping), 18:57.
Third Period—7, Detroit, Datsyuk 16 (Hudler, Cleary), 11:39. 8, Detroit, Helm 7, 18:09. Penalties—Abdelkader, Det (slashing), 14:35. Shots on Goal—Detroit 9-11-11—31. Tampa Bay 11-9-20—40. Power-play opportunities—Detroit 2 of 3; Tampa Bay 0 of 5. Goalies—Detroit, Howard 29-10-3 (40 shots-38 saves). Tampa Bay, Roloson 15-19-2 (31-25). A—20,849 (19,758).