By @StefanKubus –
DETROIT – For the first time since their 3-0-0 start, the Red Wings have won back-to-back games.
And Waterford native Dylan Larkin potted the game-winner in both contests, as his go-ahead goal 5:54 into the third period proved to be the difference in Detroit’s 2-1 victory at Joe Louis Arena over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. Riley Sheahan scored Detroit’s first goal, while Jimmy Howard stopped 29 of 30 in the victory.
“You have to grind out two points and every game is a battle for sure, but I thought we did it the right way,” Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill said. “I thought we played very well in a lot of aspects, almost all aspects in our game. I thought they played pretty well, too, but we did lots of things we want to do.”
Howard picked up just his third win in six games, but his .934 save percentage speaks volumes about his solidity this season.
“For our team, that was huge, another step in the right direction from Ottawa the other night, and to come in here and play hard against a very high-octane offense, to just keep them at one goal says that we played a pretty complete game,” Howard said.
“It’s just about going out and playing. It doesn’t matter who’s in net, we’ve been playing really and giving the guys a chance to win and, at the end of the day, that’s what our job’s for.”
Photos by Michael Caples/MiHockey
In addition to the Red Wings’ goaltending, it’s Larkin who has perhaps been the most consistent presence for Detroit early on.
“He’s done a very good job, that’s undeniable,” Blashill said of Larkin. “His impact on games has been very good. Does he have to get better at stuff? Absolutely. Was there lots of stuff over the first two periods that he had to continue to improve at? 100-percent. Our job as coaches is to make sure we continue to hold them accountable as he is having success, just like we’d hold anyone else accountable, and we will do that. I think he’ll continue to improve because he wants to improve. I think he’ll get better because he wants to get better. His impact so far has been very good.”
The teams exchanged powerplay opportunities near the middle of the opening period, with Detroit getting a second chance at 13:54, but neither team could capitalize to keep things scoreless after 20 minutes.
Just 2:02 of the second stanza, Tomas Tatar tipped a puck out of the Detroit zone on the breakout and Sheahan caught it out of mid-air in the neutral zone. He broke down the middle of the ice between the spread-out Tampa defense and snapped a low shot past Bishop to give Detroit the 1-0 lead at 2:02 of the second stanza.
At 6:51 of the middle frame, Larkin and Lightning captain Steven Stamkos engaged in a skirmish in the Tampa zone that saw both dynamic players wrestle each other to the ice, as if WWE was in town. Though Larkin admitted that’s not his style of play, his teammates respected him for jumping in to get his nose dirty.
“He’s competitive, just being out there and competing and wanting to out-battle the guy he’s competing against,” Howard said of Larkin. “It was fun to see Larks mix it up there.”
With Brendan Smith already in the penalty box for tripping late in the period, Joakim Andersson took a delay-of-game minor after clearing the puck over the glass. Nikita Kucherov then made it 1-1 with a 5-on-3 powerplay goal that Howard had virtually no chance to make the save on. Stamkos first rifled a one-timer from the point that saw the puck hit the post and then bounce to Tyler Johnson. Johnson shot the puck off a body in front, which then the puck right to Kucherov, who had a yawning cage to shoot at.
At 5:54 of the third period, Larkin burst down the right side, drove the net and put the puck far side past Bishop to give Detroit the 2-1 lead. After a three-game pointless streak, Larkin rebounded with goals in back-to-back games, both of which turned out to be game-winners.
Tampa Bay dialed up the pressure late in the third period, and it was evident the Wings were back on their collective heels, but Howard and the defensive effort kept the puck out en route to the 2-1 victory.
“I just look at it game-by-game, and we’ve just got to continue to grind and get better every day, and we want to continue to improve as a hockey team, and I thought we took a step forward in terms of improving as a hockey team and, in the mean time, we’ve got to find ways to point and we did that tonight,” Blashill said.
Detroit heads to Toronto Friday before hosting the offensively-threatening Dallas Stars on Sunday afternoon.