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Lightning power their way over the Red Wings, 3-1

Alex Nedeljkovic kept Detroit in the game, but in the end the Lightning, wait for it, found a way to win.

Detroit Red Wings v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s going to be a long two months for the Tampa Bay Lightning down the stretch. Six back-to-back games highlight a slog to the end that will test the depth of the team. They survived the first test Friday night as they fought off a willing challenger in the Detroit Red Wings, 3-1. Brian Elliott made a rare start and stopped 22 of 23 shots. Mikhail Sergachev scored the game-winner in the third period while Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos also added power play goals.

Alongside Elliott’s start in net, Coach Cooper made two other changes. Cal Foote returned to the line-up in place of Andrej Sustr while Boris Katchouk subbed in for his good friend, Taylor Raddysh. While neither young player recorded a point, they both had strong games. Katchouk was a wrecking ball on the forecheck, getting credited for two hits and three shots on goal in 9:22.

The first twenty minutes didn’t produce any goals, but it wasn’t for a lack of action. The two teams combined for 37 shot attempts with 18 finding their targets. Each team had what seemed like golden opportunities to be first to light the lamp, but in the case of the Lightning Alex Nedeljkovic kept getting in the way while the Red Wings saw their odd-man rushes evaporate as the Bolts defense recovered just in time to thwart any real danger.

Tampa Bay’s best chances came on the power play where the first unit zipped the puck around the ice with measured precision, but couldn’t work it into the back of the net. On the other end, Brian Elliott was tested early with some tough chances, but he was up to the challenge, as he stopped all 8 shots that made it on net. A shot from the slot by Robby Fabbri ticked off the side of his glove and went wide, spoiling the best chance for Detroit.

For the first ten minutes of the second, the Lightning absolutely dominated the game. They had a shoot-first mentality and were on the ball retrieving the puck. That kept the Red Wings on the ice and spinning in circles chasing the game. At one point the home town boys were outshooting their guests 13-0 in the period. They were also beating them on the scoreboard 1-0 thanks to a power play goal from Brayden Point.

Brayden Point (Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov) Power Play 1-0 Lightning

The work by Kucherov to dig it out of his skates and into a position to pass the puck without losing it is sublime. Hedman knew exactly what to do with the puck once he got it and Nedeljkovic had no chance at stopping the deflection.

Hockey can be a vastly unfair sport, though. The numbers say that the Lightning should probably have had another goal during that flurry of shots. In some cases a little bit of a quicker whistle by a referee would have kept the Red Wings from tying it up later in the period.

Robby Fabbri (Moritz Seider, Tyler Bertuzzi) 1-1

Nice play by the rookie to step up and take the puck down the ice before snapping a shot on Elliott. Fabbri is a bit quicker to spot the puck than Ondrej Palat and is able to push it home to tie up the game. There was an outcry from Lightning fans that the whistle should have blown, but the ref is behind the net and has a good look at the puck and could see it wasn’t controlled by the Tampa Bay goaltender. Gotta play to the whistle, boys.

A little bit of a lull passed through the game, interrupted by unsuccessful power plays by both teams. The Lightning sparked it up at the end of the frame as Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn had back-to-back shots stopped by the Detroit goaltender.

It’s easy to think that the Lightning should have run away with this game based on the recent success of the two teams, but the Red Wings played with that reckless ignorance of the past that young teams seem to possess. That kept the Bolts on their heels a bit and Robby Fabbri came a few inches from putting a puck into an open net, but the Bolts experience won over in the end.

Experience, and a really good power play against the worst road penalty kill in the league, that is. Late in the period, it was the second unit that connected to give Tampa Bay a lead they would not relinquish.

Mikhail Sergachev (Victor Hedman, Ross Colton) Power Play, 2-1 Lightning

It’s an expert level shot from Sergachev that rang off the par and in, but give credit to Corey Perry for eclipsing Nedeljkovic as the shot was unleashed. Sergachev hasn’t had the offensive season he had hoped for, but plays like that show the potential he has to be a top scorer from the blueline.

With the lead, the Lightning bled the clock and closed things out with yet another power play goal. This one into an empty net from just inside center ice from Steven Stamkos. The puck was freed up when Victor Hedman upended Bertuzzi in the Lightning zone.

Steven Stamkos (Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman) Power Play, 3-1 Lightning

(Empty net goals don’t get highlights)

It was a really nice bounce-back game for the Lightning after their debacle against the Pittsburgh Penguins the night before. The score might have been close, but the Lightning dominated for long stretches of the game at even strength and used their special teams to pull out the victory.