Lightning-Red Wings Preview
Tampa Bay center Brian Boyle skated toward the locker room at the end of Game 3 flapping his arms, indicating Justin Abdelkader was too chicken to fight him. Abdelkader said he gladly would've obliged, only that fighting with a taped hand calls for a game misconduct.
Detroit was, in fact, the aggressor while trimming its deficit to 2-1 in a contentious series that's seen the Lightning's grip become a bit looser. Now the Red Wings have a chance to even it with another victory at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday night, a turn of events that seemed unlikely after the series' first two games.
What's changed? Detroit's goaltender, for one. Jimmy Howard was in net for Wednesday's 3-2 loss and Friday's 5-2 defeat before coach Jeff Blashill decided to give Petr Mrazek the nod in Game 3. Mrazek faced only 16 shots Sunday, but his contributions helped the Red Wings shut down Tampa's top line.
Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn combined for 15 points in the first two games but that line didn't even register a shot on net in a 2-0 loss. The newly formed trio of Abdelkader, Luke Glendening and Riley Sheahan had plenty to do with that.
"It's just one game and it's a big win for our team," Glendening said. "It's a step in the right direction, but it's one game and they're gonna come ready next game, so we have to as well."
And another physical battle likely awaits. Line brawls have broken out after the last two games that have featured plenty of action after the whistle, and the scrap between Boyle and Abdelkader took a humorous turn after Boyle's taunts. Blashill instructed Abdelkader not to throw a punch with his taped hand, and the Detroit forward laughed off Boyle's actions.
"It's kind of funny, but if he wants to do that, that's what he wants to show, whatever," Abdelkader said. "It doesn't affect me at all because I know what type of player I am. I stand up for myself when I'm healthy."
Maybe the Lightning's lack of health is catching up with them. Steven Stamkos had surgery that reportedly included removing a rib to address blood clots, and standout defenseman Anton Stralman still isn't recovered from a fractured left leg.
Coach Jon Cooper isn't panicking after just one defeat, but he wasn't happy with how the tides turned so drastically in Game 3. Tampa combined for 65 shots in the first two games, then had seven over the final two periods Sunday.
The Lightning also could be in a much different position had Detroit converted more with the man advantage. They killed all of the Red Wings' seven power plays in Game 3 and have kept Detroit scoreless on 16 of 17 in the series.
"You're just killing the whole night, and whether you debate the calls here or there, we didn't give ourselves a chance," Cooper said. "If you are going to sit in the penalty box all night it's hard to do anything."
Ben Bishop has been instrumental on the penalty kill and kept Tampa in Game 3 with 28 saves. He's stopped 92 of 98 shots in the series, and another solid effort - along with some adjustments from Cooper - could put the Lightning back in control ahead of Thursday's Game 5 at home.
"I'm not so sure myself, their coach or anyone in this room was picking this to be a sweep," Cooper said. "It went from us pinning them up against the wall to now it's a series."