TAMPA — While the Lightning were left to digest another uneven 60 minutes of hockey on Tuesday night, they also were reminded that earning points in the Atlantic Division won’t be quite as easy this season.
Their 4-2 loss to the Red Wings at Amalie Arena was frustrating on many levels. This team had taken significant strides in playing more complete games in recent weeks, shoring up their defense and limiting turnovers.
They found themselves lured into a false sense of security early, tallying 14 giveaways in the first two periods. And after falling behind by a goal going into the third, Lightning coach Jon Cooper jumbled his lines so much that they even had to surprise his former assistant on the Red Wings bench, first-year Detroit head coach Derek Lalonde.
The Lightning responded to the line shuffling, recording a season-high 30 shots on goal in the final period, their second-highest shot total in a single period in team history. But they weren’t able to muster enough for another late comeback.
“With the urgency we showed in the third, if we showed that for 60 minutes, maybe this outcome’s a little different,” Cooper said. “It was really disappointing. I thought the boys were ready, but clearly a lot of bad habits that we’ve had as a team at times during the year just came flooding out.”
The Lightning (15-9-1) knew some of their division foes would be competitive this season, and the Red Wings (13-7-5), a team that hasn’t made the playoffs for six straight years, now have the same number of points at the Lightning (31).
“I think we should be more worried about our game and what we do and how we play the game more so and kind of making sure we’re sticking to gameplan and our structure,” said Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian. “You want to respect the opponent. It’s the NHL. It’s the beauty of the league. There’s a lot of really good teams, a lot of really good players, but I thought we did that to ourselves tonight.”
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy kept the Lightning in the game early, making several dramatic saves. In the final two minutes of the first period, an offensive zone turnover sprung Dominik Kubalik for a breakaway, and Vasilevskiy absorbed Kubalik’s wrister, reaching behind him while falling back and sweeping the puck away as it leaked behind him toward the goal line. Vasilevskiy and Detroit goaltender Ville Husso (44 saves) exchanged saves throughout a scoreless first period.
“It was no good, the turnovers, the lack of urgency,” Lightning center Brayden Point said.
“I’m not sure what was going on,” he added. “I don’t wanna say not ready, but just maybe trying to force it too much, not using our legs. A big part of our team, how we have success is by skating, and I don’t think we were doing that.”
Follow all the action on and off the ice
Subscribe to our free Lightning Strikes newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Detroit’s Michael Rasmussen opened the scoring 1:54 into the second period, getting behind Steven Stamkos on a Detroit rush. And Jonatan Berggren made it a 2-0 game 5:59 into the third, deflecting Olli Maatta’s shot from the point, into the air and over Vasilevskiy.
Tampa Bay did everything to tilt the ice in the third period, and Detroit had just one shift in the offensive zone in the third as the Lightning owned zone time with their restructured lines.
“I thought we were good in the third, a lot of chances, a lot of puck possession, we were shooting the puck more and finally creating those shot-scramble situations where we’re just kind of crushing the net and throwing pucks there,” Point said.
The Lightning’s third-period push wasn’t rewarded until Stamkos scored from the outer edge of the left circle moments after Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy for an extra attacker with 5:05 to play.
Adam Erne responded with an empty-net goal 90 seconds later, but Point then made it a one-goal game again by swatting a bouncing puck in front into the back of the net — again with an extra attacker — with 2:26 remaining. But David Perron collected a puck off the boards on the rush and withstood Nikita Kucherov’s backcheck to tap the puck into the goal with 25 seconds to go.
This was the Lightning’s first division loss to a team that isn’t the league-best Bruins.
“They’ve got a skilled team,” Point said. “They are really structured, they work hard and they don’t give you much in the ozone. Really good coach. He’s got his team playing extremely well. They play their system well, they don’t give you a whole lot. Every inch on the ice is tough.”
• • •
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.