It wasn’t that long ago that as a Tampa Bay Lightning fan, the Detroit Red Wings were one of my most disliked franchises. They’re an Original Six team. Some of the best players to ever play the game are alumni of the team, with Gordie Howe topping that list along with Nicklas Lidstrom, Steve Yzerman, Pavel Datsyuk, and the glut of Russians whose services they secured in the 1990s.
The Lightning currently have a 28-28-2-2 record against the Red Wings in the regular season. But it took a 16-1-0 run over the last 17 games against the Red Wings going back to 2015-16 to even up the franchise series. It’s not that much of a surprise though as it coincides with the Red Wings going to the playoffs a million seasons in a row while the Lightning mostly struggled; and also coincided with the Red Wings finally going into a decline while the Lightning have (mostly) soared since 2013-14.
But I can pinpoint the exact moment that my dislike, my ire, my intense displeasure at the Red Wings franchise began.
April 15th, 2016 at approximately 10:15 PM Eastern Time.
Game Two of the first round series of the playoffs between the Lightning and the Red Wings. The Lightning were up 1-0 in the series after a 3-2 win. In the second game Tyler Johnson broke the 2-2 tie in the third period and then added an insurance goal eight minutes later. Alex Killorn pretty much locked the game up with an empty net goal with under three minutes remaining and the Lightning were on their way to a 2-0 series lead.
Then, with 54 seconds to go in the game, all hell broke loose. A full line brawl with everybody but the goaltenders getting involved. All ten skaters on the ice earned a total of 94 penalty minutes. Six ten-minute misconducts were given out along with a game misconduct and three fighting majors. Additionally, two slashing minors and two roughing minors were handed out.
The scrum started with Brad Richards being unhappy with Andrej Sustr for defending him in front of the net and delivering a hard two handed slash to Sustr’s stick and then giving Sustr a shove, which prompted a response from Sustr and Nikita Nesterov. Justin Abdelkader entered the fray trying to jump on Nesterov from behind. Cedric Paquette and Mike Blunden got involved at that point to pull Abdelkader away. From there, things devolved into complete chaos. Abdelkader got free of Blunden, and then began to beat on Blunden’s head while he was down on all fours.
Abdelkader ended up breaking Blunden’s face shield which then cut Blunden’s face badly. It wasn’t long after that before the referees and linesmen were able to restore order and get everyone separated and mostly sent off to the locker room. No suspensions resulted from the fray, but I do still believe that Abdelkader’s actions went above and beyond in taking advantage of a player down on the ice, causing injury, and should have resulted in at least a one game suspension.
Warning: Blood. Lots of it.
The trouble kept going into the third game or the series back in Detroit. The Red Wings would take the game by a score of 2-0 to bring the series back to 2-1. But that didn’t stop there being another scrum at the end of the game. Braydon Coburn took a run at Henrik Zetterberg near the buzzer. There wasn’t as much chaos in this scrum with it ending up more in a wrestling match than an actual brawl.
This, however, led to one of the greatest moments of Brian Boyle’s career. Boyle wanted revenge on Abdelkader for his treatment of Blunden in the previous game. Boyle challenged him to a fight while everyone else was scrumming. But Abdelkader pleaded with the referee that he didn’t want to fight because he had tape on his hands.
It gave him a convenient excuse to not take the challenge that he had to know was coming after what he did. Why? Any player that fights with tape on his hands will receive an Intent To Injure penalty, which could have resulted in a suspension. Now, there is a chance he taped up his hands because of bashing them repeatedly against Blunden’s helmet.
But I think Brian Boyle knew different... BAWK! BAWK! BAWK! BAWK!
Abdelkader reluctance to engage and Boyle’s clever taunt led to some great moments when the series returned to Tampa for the fifth game with fans taunting him for being a chicken during warm ups and during the game by wearing chicken masks and putting up signs at the glass.
These weren’t the only incidents that drew my ire for the Red Wings though. The first incident I remember well happened a year previously. During the 2015 NHL Playoffs, game six in Detroit, Niklas Kronwall went for his patented “You Got Kronwall’ed!” hit where he lines up a player and checks them with his back. While Kronwall is generally legal with these hits keeping his body low and delivering a hard hit through the core, this one was most certainly not. He elevated into the hit and caught Nikita Kucherov with an elbow to the head.
Kronwall was not penalized for the play, though he should have received a Major and Game Misconduct for Charging. Red Wings fans obviously screamed there was nothing wrong with the hit. It was just good old-fashion, hit to the head. Old school hockey, right? Nothing wrong with hitting opponents in the head, right? He should have kept his head up, right? Wrong. Kronwall paid the price getting suspended for game seven for his actions. The Lightning went on to win game seven 1-0.
Since then, there have been some other incidents between the teams, mostly involving Abdelkader and Dylan Larkin. Even though the Red Wings have been diminished, they are still one of my most disliked teams in the NHL and I think for good reason. What makes it even sweeter is the Lightning’s success in the playoffs against the Red Wings having won both playoff series played against the Red Wings while going 3-2 in Joe Louis Arena.
Oh, and an even sweeter fun trivia fact. Ondrej Palat scored the last playoff goal with the Lightning winning the last playoff game in Joe Louis Arena. A fitting end to the Red Wings’ long consecutive playoff run.