Helene St. James | Detroit Free Press
The Detroit Red Wings head into the second half of the season with a nice boost to their confidence.
They host the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday fresh off earning three of four points against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Thursday’s 6-4 victory at Little Caesars Arena wasn’t the best the Wings have played this season, but it did feature a season high in goals scored, and the usual reliable performance from goaltender Jonathan Bernier.
“Our guys competed hard,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “I didn’t think we played very smart at all. Bernie was our best player by far. The other night we played good enough to win and then we lost in overtime. They’re a good hockey team.
“We’ve played lots of good games this year that I felt we deserved a better fate, maybe, and we didn’t get it, so good for us to find a way to win. Certainly goaltending is a huge part of this game, and our goalie was the best player on the ice.”
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The Wings improved to 8-16-4, earning points in two straight games. They hadn’t bagged a regulation win over the Lightning in the regular season since Nov. 3, 2015.
“It gives us confidence,” Troy Stecher said “They’re one of the top teams in the league for a reason. For us, this reinforces the things we’ve been working on. We believe in our group.”
Stecher had been sidelined by injury, and made up for his absence with his first goal of the season. Dylan Larkin scored for the second straight game after a stay in sick bay. Anthony Mantha was noticeable, scoring one goal and setting up two others – that’s what the Wings need from their big winger, not the lethargy that marked the first two months.
“When he plays against big, strong great defensemen, he can still create,” Blashill said. “He’s got the ability to play against those guys because he’s got that kind of skill set. Anthony played good. He’s actually played pretty well here in the last little bit. He’s done a really good job of moving his feet.”
The Wings also got goals from Luke Glendening, Robby Fabbri and Vladislav Namestnikov. That’s the kind of depth they need if they’re to rise from the bottom of the Central Division.
Darren Helm was terrific after the Lightning scored twice in the third period to pull within 5-4, helping stave off a collapse. But the biggest difference-maker was Bernier, who came through with 40 saves. He made seven saves during Tampa power plays, which included a 30-second 5-on-3. The Lightning converted on the first power play, but after that, the Wings’ penalty killers were brilliant.
This week has been more along the lines of what the Wings thought they’d look like before they lost five players to COVID-19 protocol a week into the season; before injuries claimed Bernier and Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi. Bertuzzi has yet to practice, but this is the healthiest the Wings have been in weeks.
“It allows us to be more complete as a team,” Blashill said. “We don’t have enough difference-making players to lose them. When we lost a number of guys, it hurt us. When we’ve been healthy, we’ve played pretty good hockey overall. We haven’t won enough, but we’ve played pretty good. So to come out and get three points here against Tampa is a good thing for us. Now we have to build on it.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.