Another year, another missed opportunity for the Detroit Red Wings to compete in the NHL playoffs.
That’s five years, for those keeping a scorecard.
Another rebuilding year, another season of unwatchable breakouts and poorly executed entries.
But for those keeping score, there were fewer and while the 2020-21 offense struggled and the power play was simply pathetic, the defense made strides and the second-half goaltending of both Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Griess was all-star caliber. Also, the forwards, one through 12, or on some nights, 11, committed to playing stronger, 200-foot games.
If there is a gauge to the Red Wings’ rebuilding project, it’s the number of unwatchable games.
For those keeping score, there were a lot fewer during 2020-21 than the previous four non-playoff seasons.
Here three of the best games of the pandemic-shortened campaign:
March 11, 2021: Red Wings 6, Lightning 4
Nearly six years in the making and General Manager Steve Yzerman going 0-fer for two seasons against the franchise he constructed, the Red Wings finally upended the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Anthony Mantha, awaking from his early-season slumber, scored a goal and added two assists, halting the Red Wings’ 0-19-1 skid against the Lightning. The Red Wings’ previous win came Nov. 3, 2015, when Yzerman was still molding the Lightning into a consistent Cup contender.
During his postgame press conference, coach Jeff Blashill attempted to downplay the accomplishment.
“I don’t think our guys pay too much attention to those streaks from year to year,” he said via Red Wings TV. “We haven’t been good enough for a while now, so we have poor records against a lot of teams.”
In their last nine matches entering the encounter at Little Caesars Arena, the Lightning were 8-0-1. The Red Wings, who were backed by Jonathan Bernier’s 40 saves, snapped a four-game losing streak.
“(Bernier’s) our best player,” defenseman Troy Stecher said.
April 22: Red Wings 7, Stars 3
With a mostly cringe-worthy season coming to a merciful end, Red Wings fans deserved a laugher. Well, Jakub Vrana delivered not one punch line, but four, leading the Red Wings to a laugher over the visiting Stars.
Vrana scored once in the opening two periods and showed off his party tricks with two third-period goals.
Goalie Thomas Greiss played the straight man, turning aside 43 shots on goal as the Red Wings stopped the Stars’ four-game winning streak.
Vrana’s four goals marked the first time a Red Wing reached the plateau since Anthony Mantha accomplished the feat on Oct. 6, 2019. Ironically, Vrana was acquired 10 days earlier, along with Richard Panik and two high draft picks, from the Washington Capitals for Mantha.
Panik also scored.
“It’s a classic case of beating yourself,” Dallas coach Rick Bowness said, streamed on Stars TV. “We shot ourselves in the foot. Our poor puck management gave them goals.”
May 1: Red Wings 1, Lightning 0 (SO)
What better way to appease a restless fan base than at least showing off the Red Wings’ improved defense and their ability to play spoiler.
Aided by goalie Thomas Greiss’ 33 saves – his second straight shutout – the Red Wings snapped a three-game losing streak.
Forward Sam Gagner scored the lone shootout goal and Greiss skated off the ice having not allowed a goal during his last 136 minutes, 31 seconds.
The Lightning, who entered the match with four straight wins, missed out on an important second standings point.
In a tight race for the Central Division title, the Lightning fell into third place, four points behind the Carolina Hurricanes and two behind the Florida Panthers.
The Hurricanes ended up claiming the division title, five points more than the Lightning.