One piece that was going to be part of the Red Wings’ rebuild was dealt Monday, but many others remain in Detroit.
And some of those young cornerstones of the rebuild gave Wings’ fans plenty of optimism playing against the Carolina Hurricanes later in the evening.
Adam Erne and Filip Zadina (power play) scored goals 2 minutes 10 seconds apart early in the third period, and goaltender Jonathan Bernier stopped 36 shots, as the Red Wings defeated Carolina 3-1 and completed a two-game sweep of the Central Division leading Hurricanes (27-10-4).
Sam Gagner added an empty net goal with 55 seconds left to clinch the victory.
It wasn’t easy day, or night, for a team that saw a good friend and teammate, Anthony Mantha, unexpectedly be traded.
“It was shocking,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “I woke up from my nap and looked on my phone and he had texted me. It hurt. It was hard. We had been together for a long time and kind of grown up together.”
But the business of pro sports quickly comes into reality.
“He gets a great opportunity there but it’s pro hockey and part of the business and you have to say your good-byes to friends and wish them the best,” Larkin said. “I don’t think it’s the end of our friendship and I wish him all the best.”
Larkin and coach Jeff Blashill both had an opportunity to see Mantha before he left, “which is nice, usually you don’t get to see guys”, said Larkin.
Blashill, who has coached Mantha going back to their time together in the minor leagues in Grand Rapids, was also glad to see Mantha before he left.
“Anthony is real good person and there’s been moments where there’s been friction between us as there is going to be anytime a coach is trying to push a player,” Blashill said. “But I really appreciate Anthony as a person, he’s somebody who wants to do it right. I wished him luck, he’s going to be a real good fit in Washington, he’ll do good things and they have a chance to go on a long run.”
The Wings (15-23-6) surprised many people around the NHL – and likely inside the Wings’ locker room – by trading Mantha to Washington for forwards Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik, a 2021 first-round pick and 2022 second-round pick.
Vrana and Panik will be at practice Wednesday and play in Thursday’s game at Little Caesars Arena against Chicago.
Larkin thought about the likes of Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, and others you have been traded from the Wings the last several trade deadlines.
“It’s hard, those are two of my best buddies and you have to put that aside and you learn quickly that you have to focus on what is front of you and it was Carolina on the schedule,” Larkin said.
And the Wings did an outstanding job of focusing on the task at hand and defeating a powerful Hurricanes team.
“We played loose,” Larkin said. “The stress (of the trade deadline) was behind us and we could focus on the game tonight. We played tight defense, we didn’t give them much on their power play (all four kills). Just a great road game and great third period.”
Both Larkin and Blashill felt the passing of the trade deadline relieved a lot of the surrounding unknown, and guys were able to just play hockey again.
“Guys did a real good job of handling it mentally and staying with it and staying in the moment,” Blashill said. “They came out and did a real good job.”
Players like Erne, Zadina, Michael Rasmussen (who assisted on both goals), Filip Hronek, and others are taking steps forward, and keeping the rebuild on track.
Erne gave the Wings a 1-0 goal just 24 seconds into the period.
Rasmussen carried the puck around the Hurricanes net and fed a pass across the crease to Erne, who jammed his 11th goal past goalie James Reimer.
Carolina challenged the goal for offside – and it was close – but the goal was called good after replay.
A Hurricanes delay-of-game penalty gave the Wings a two-man advantage for 47 seconds, and just after the two-man advantage expired, Rasmussen fed Zadina open near the hashmarks and Zadina snapped a one-timer past Reimer for his fifth goal at 2:34.
Carolina’s Nino Niederreiter cut the lead to 2-1 at 13:54 of the third period.
These final days before the trade deadline are always a tough time around the NHL.
The Wings had dealt defensemen Jon Merrill (to Montreal) and Patrik Nemeth (to Colorado) last weekend, then Mantha in Monday’s final minutes.
“All three of them are awesome teammates, friends, and as I’ve said at some point here it would be real nice to not say good-bye to friends at the trade deadline and be sellers,” Larkin said.
A victory like Monday shows those days could be in the future at some point.