April 18, 2016
Red Wings Coach Blashill Makes All The Right
Moves In 2-0 Playoff Victory Over Lightning
By KEITH GAVE
DETROIT – This second straight opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series against Tampa Bay was threatening to be an even uglier sequel.
“The only reason we lost that series last year because one guy willed his team to win, that little bugger,” Wings Senior Vice President Jim Devellano a few weeks after it ended – while Johnson was leading his team to the Stanley Cup Finals.
This year? More of the same. Johnson and his linemates Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov had accounted for seven of their team’s eight goals to help Tampa take a two-game lead as the best-of-seven series shifted to Detroit. The Wings had to figure out a way to counter the Johnson line or they’d be lucky to win a game, let alone push the series to a seventh game like they did last spring.
So Jeff Blashill, who has endured a rather bumpy rookie season behind an NHL bench, went to work. He juggled the lines. He swapped out a defenseman. He changed goalies.
And everything worked in a 2-0 victory that put the Wings back in the series with Blashill’s first Stanley Cup playoff win.
If the young coach is going to get beat up for all manner of sins by his team this season as it seemed to regress from the start back in October, he also deserves some credit, too, especially when he makes some bold moves that, for one night at least, worked to perfection.
Players deserve much praise, to be sure, but this was very much a coaching victory.
Rookie Andreas Athanasiou scored his first playoff goal and captain Henrik Zetterberg ended a 12-game scoring drought with the other. Petr Mrazek, in goal after Jimmy Howard lost the first two games, stopped all 16 shots he faced.
But there were plenty of other heroes wearing the red sweaters.
Blashill’s new line of Luke Glendening with Justin Abdelkader and Riley Sheahan did a masterful job against the Lightning’s top line that had caused so much damage in the first two games. Not only was the Johnson line snuffed, finishing without a shot on goal, its unit took four minor penalties.
The Wings carried the play from the opening minutes when Sheahan checked Tampa defenseman Viktor Hedman into his own bench. Seconds later, Brendan Smith – inserted into the lineup for the first time in three weeks for Kyle Quincey – pummeled Cedrick Paquette near the end boards with a hard, clean check that had Paquette on his knees trying to shake the cobwebs out of his head.
That got the crowd into it, and the Wings rode the wave of emotion to victory with one of their most complete 60-minute performances in a long time.
“I knew we had it in us,” said Abdelkader, who said the fans deserved a big assist. “The crowd was great, as they always are, lively, exciting. We definitely fed off their energy right from the start.”
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper knows it could be a rocky road to the finish if he doesn’t get more out of other players. With the Wings getting the final line change on home ice, Blashill can get Abdelkader, Glendening and Sheahan against the Johnson line, along with the defensive pairing of Danny DeKeyser and Alexei Marchenko, who also deserve credit for containing that unit.
“Well, we’ve played three games and three guys have scored all but one of them,” Cooper said of his team’s eight goals in this series. “You can’t just sit here and depend on three guys to score every night and that’s how it’s going to go. It’s just not how it works. We had 16 shots. I think we had seven shots in the last two periods. I know they switched goaltenders, but I don't even know if they needed a goaltender tonight, to be honest.”
As well as Detroit played in Game 3, however, it was far from a perfect performance. While the Wings outshot the Lightning 30-16, they still managed to score just two goals, their same output as the first two games. That puts a tremendous burden on the goaltender to be nearly perfect. Mrazek notched his third playoff shutout; he had two against Tampa last spring, but he can’t do it every game.
Also, the Wings were 0-6 on the power play, including 59 seconds with a two man advantage with the game still scoreless. They registered just six shots on goal in 9:58 with the extra man.
The series continues with Game 4 Tuesday night at the Joe, and it would help if Blashill could find a little more magic in his bag of tricks to some production with the man-advantage. The won’t survive the series with an impotent power play.