Two-time defending Stanley Cup champs? No problem.
A lineup of former captains like Alex Delvecchio, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman on the ice to welcome the newest captain, Dylan Larkin? No pressure.
A victorious scoring outburst in front of a wild, raucous and jubilant Hockeytown for the 2021-22 NHL season opener? Unfortunately, just no.
Somehow, however improbable, the Detroit Red Wings managed to do everything but win in their 7-6 overtime loss Thursday to the Tampa Bay Lightning before a sellout crowd of 19,515 at Little Caesars Arena, which had all the energy of a playoff game.
Oh, yeah. And Tyler Bertuzzi, who invited an exploding sun’s worth of heat for his refusal to get vaccinated, ushered in the season by torching the Lightning, using his white-hot stick to score four goals.
Through it all, the new Red Wings looked a little like the old Red Wings. That team we used to know so well around here that played with vigor, cunning and that killer instinct.
“The energy was great,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “It was awesome, it was awesome to see the captains out. It was great, that was awesome. It was great to have fans in the building. All that stuff was great.”
Of course, these Wings are not those Wings. No Production Line lineage from the 1950s, or championship-juggernaut mojo from the 1990s and 2000s. Not even close.
In fact, the night was supposed to be about youth and the future with defenseman Moritz Seider, 20, and forward Lucas Raymond, 19, making their NHL debuts. The two rookies got some of the loudest ovations during pregame introductions and made contributions — two assists for Seider and one for Raymond.
But it was two of the young veterans who brought Wings fans to their feet fastest and most often. In a pregame ceremony befitting the hockey royalty gathered on the ice, Larkin was officially crowned the 37th captain in Wings history. He went down the line and shook hands with those who had come before him.
Six minutes into the game, Larkin went down the ice and gave the Wings a 1-0 lead when he stuffed in a loose puck that just squirted under Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Then Bertuzzi happened. A mere 18 seconds into the second period, he took a long outlet pass from Nick Leddy at his blue line, darted up the middle, split defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Victor Hedman while pulling the puck between his legs and then beat Vasilevskiy, a Vezina winner and the reigning Conn Smythe playoff MVP, low on his blocker side.
The breathtaking goal barely gave fans a chance to refill their lungs before Bertuzzi scored his second at 7:52 of the second period for a 3-0 lead. His third came on the power play and put the Wings up, 4-1, at 12:29.
While all this scoring was going on, the game was growing chippier by the minute. Maybe it was the energy of the crowd that incited the players to push and shove a lot more than usual. Or perhaps it was the Lightning, which entered 0-1-0, not taking kindly to a bunch of expected pushovers to start pushing back.
Whatever the reason, things started getting violent and the animosity came to a head when Mathieu Joseph checked Larkin from behind into the boards about 11 minutes into the second period. Larkin, who is coming off a season-ending injury off a similar cross-check, immediately retaliated by throwing a hard, gloved hook at Joseph, then threw off his gloves and invited all comers for more as a scrum erupted.
Larkin was given a match penalty and was out of the game. Steven Stamkos then scored two power-play goals to cut the Wings’ lead to 4-3 after two periods.
Bertuzzi added his fourth early in the third period when he finished serving a tripping penalty then darted out of the box and beat Vasilevskiy from a sharp angle.
Vladislav Namestnikov put the Wings up, 6-3, at 7:10 of the third period. And then the Wings, these Wings, showed how far they have yet to go when they squandered the lead by giving up three unanswered goals, then the overtime goal to Ondrej Palat.
“Obviously you end the game with a sour taste in your mouth,” Blashill said. “That’s something we’re going to have to swallow and figure out. But in the end, from a fan perspective, it was awesome.”
The Wings lost a game, but they found out something about themselves Thursday. They can score and they have what it takes to give any team in the NHL a game when they’re healthy and play with energy. That alone is something worth celebrating as much any scoring outburst.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.