The move to the Eastern Conference was supposed to ease the burden for the "always there" Detroit Red Wings.
Their dominance over the Tampa Bay Lightning since the Bolts' inception has been well documented.
A 4-0 record for the Lightning to start off this year against their new division rivals was almost impossible to fathom in September, and yet here the Bolts were, heading into game number 5 against Detroit at Joe Louis Arena with a chance to sweep the Wings outright.
The Bolts couldn't quite get it done on Sunday night after rallying back to beat the Buffalo Sabres the night before, also on the road. Detroit scored three consecutive goals in the middle of the game and held on for a critical regulation win with things still looking very crowded in the East even as the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to implode.
The beginning of the game wasn't exactly pretty for the Bolts, which maybe is expected considering this was night two of a back-to-back in game 75 of the season. The Red Wings carried the balance of play early, but it was the Lightning who struck first. Valterri Filppula pounced on a loose puck in the slot after a blown zone exit by the Wings and put a deceiving wrist shot past goaltender Jonas Gustavsson to give the Bolts the early lead with 11:20 remaining in the first.
The Wings answered with three consecutive goals split between the first and second periods. The first came off the stick of Joakim Andersson, who potted a rebound from a high slot shot by Darren Helm, who was unmarked.
Gustav Nyquist then gave the Wings the lead for good at 15:24 of the first, with a tremendous individual effort, highlight-worthy goal (something the Lightning have been on the wrong end of a little bit too often lately). He fought off what was likely a handful of obstruction penalties by an out-of-position Matt Carle and somehow scored anyways from below the goal line when he was most likely about to get a penalty shot.
The Lightning managed a much better second period overall, outshooting the Wings 13-8 and getting more good scoring chances on Gustavsson, who stopped them all. Only David Legwand found twine on a late power play, tipping a shot up and over Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop to extend the Detroit lead to 3-1 heading into the third period.
The Bolts had their fair share of opportunities to draw even, but failed to convert on a pair of third period power plays. Sami Salo scored on what looked like a harmless shot from the point at 15:31 of the third to make the final score 3-2, as the Lightning managed little more than token offense even in the waning moments of regulation.
- The elephant in the room: let's get to it. Jon Cooper has been stubborn, obstinate, even, when it comes to how he uses his goaltenders. Ben Bishop started back to back games again this season, and he looked tired, playing behind a tired team. Perhaps this is not the smartest strategy when heading into a playoff run? Securing home-ice advantage is important but if it comes at the cost of the goaltender that got you there...