DETROIT — Things haven’t been going well for the Red Wings lately. Really, they haven’t been doing well since Detroit last saw the Tampa Bay Lightning two weeks ago. They entered Wednesday night’s game against those same Lightnings having lost six straight games (four in regulation, two in overtime), saw their most effective pair of defenses run out of time due to illness and an injury, and saw their captain and top scorer running out of time through injury. , too.
In other words, their backs were squarely against the wall on Wednesday as they looked to break their skid. Especially after Detroit allowed a goal in the first 90 seconds, then quickly dispatched Tampa Bay in a long five-on-three.
But from that five-on-three — and from there — the Red Wings dug in and battled their way out of the mud to win 7-4, and showed plenty of resilience in the process.
Start with the player who scored his first goal. Olli Määttä has been one of Detroit’s most important players all season, but the defender is only in his third game after battling pneumonia. Even though he was preparing to return last weekend, you could tell he was still feeling the effects, and the Red Wings have lightened his load accordingly – despite averaging almost 20 minutes per game this season, he played just 13 in Washington on Monday. . Even on Wednesday, he only played 5:28 p.m.
When the Lightning got off to a quick start looking to avenge their home loss to Detroit two weeks ago, however, Määttä was there to help kill the five-on-three that quickly followed. And then, once Detroit weathered the storm, it was Määttä who put them on the board by putting home a fine pass behind the net from Pius Suter.
But if you’re looking for the epitome of wrestling for these Red Wings, you need look no further than team captain Dylan Larkin, who missed a game last week after being hit in the hand by a puck, and has clearly been playing through the injury ever since.
Shooting a puck with a hand injury isn’t easy, and in his last two games, Larkin has had only a handful of shots per game. But on Wednesday he scored five, two of them for goals – including a second-half tally, as well as what ultimately proved to be the game winner.
Detroit certainly benefited from a turbulent night by Tampa Bay goaltender Brian Elliott, who normally should have avoided at least two of the Red Wings’ goals (including Larkin’s second). But nonetheless, it’s hard to overstate the value of a performance like Wednesday’s from a captain, especially after a streak like the Red Wings.
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Between the quick return of Larkin, Määttä and Filip Hronek after a crushing blow from Minnesota’s Ryan Reaves, Detroit is getting a boost from key players battling pain and illness – and the rest of the team acting in response .
“It just makes you want to play hard for the guy next to you,” Rasmussen said as he sat next to Larkin. “Anytime you fight something obviously we all know that and we all see it in guys. You just try to take over where needed and play as well as you can.
Rasmussen did this while Larkin was injured, in part switching to the wing so he could take on the face-off responsibilities on Larkin’s line. On Wednesday, he certainly did more than that, posting a career-high four-point game that included two goals.
Detroit coach Derek Lalonde said after the game that assistant coach Alex Tanguay pushed to want to see Rasmussen (who is a natural center but has played both forward positions in the NHL) on the wing, and Wednesday’s results confirmed that.
“I just think it simplifies his game,” Lalonde said. “Can skate more north-south while on the wing. He was pretty good there.
Overall, what followed the Red Wings’ last big win over the Lightning is a reminder that momentum, even after a hard-earned win, is hard to maintain in the NHL. Detroit has found itself at both ends of the narrative rollercoaster at times this season, and a win in late December doesn’t change the precarious position they now find themselves in after the six-game winless streak. There is still a lot of work to do for this group, starting Friday in Ottawa.
But the resilience and tenacity shown by their key players — and specifically their captain — on Wednesday is exactly what the Red Wings needed at this point in their season. Not for post-season dreams, which always faced an uphill battle anyway, but to keep the season geared towards progress.
After Larkin’s first goal on Wednesday, he headed for his teammates’ usual skate, with his right side closest to the bench. But when it came time for the punches, he instead reached out with his left hand – saving that right hand for when he and his team really needed it.
(Photo by Dylan Larkin: Brian Bradshaw Sevald/USA Today)