Detroit — Fans and players alike waited some 18 months for this game, this evening, and no one really went home disappointed.
Opening the home portion of the regular season Thursday at Little Caesars Arena, the Red Wings entertained their home fans for most of the night, but saw the Tampa Bay Lightning ultimately rally and stun the Red Wings, 7-6, in overtime.
Ondrej Palat scored the winner in overtime at 2 minutes, 43 seconds, stepping inside of Pius Suter and tapping in Victor Hedman’s centering pass.
BOX SCORE: Lightning 7, Red Wings 6
The Lightning overcame a 6-3 Wings lead early in the third period, twice actually overcoming three-goal deficits.
“You want to find a way to win the hockey game there after you have that kind of lead,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “All that stuff is disappointing. It was a gut punch there at the end.
“That part is certainly frustrating. You have to be able to finish that off. We were in position to win the hockey game. We take a penalty on 5-on-6 and give up a goal, we have to do better than that.”
Tyler Bertuzzi electrified an already frenzied crowd.
In his first game since January, after missing most of last season because of back surgery, Bertuzzi scored four goals, leading the Wings’ attack. He became the ninth player in NHL history to score four or more goals in a season opener.
“That’s what we’re going for, is a win, but to start off with a point, we can work from there and keep getting better,” Bertuzzi said. “A little bit of a luck and good passing from Fabs (Robby Fabbri) and a couple of other guys (on Bertuzzi’s goals); it was just good to be back out there.”
Blashill felt Bertuzzi brought the energy and skill he has been known for — and the Wings missed last season.
“It was great; he brings a ton of energy,” Blashill said. “Tyler is a real good player, he does a ton of good things and makes defensive and offensive plays. It was great for him to come back and play at a high level like that. It’s going to give him confidence.
“It’s too bad we gave away a point when he played that good.”
Dylan Larkin opened the Wings’ scoring and Vladislav Namestnikov added another, and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 41 shots.
Larkin wasn’t there at the end of the game, though.
Larkin was assessed a match penalty (intent to injure) in the second period when he threw a punch at an unsuspecting Mathieu Joseph, after Joseph slammed Larkin into the boards.
Larkin, who suffered a neck injury late last season and had a long rehabilitation through the summer and into the exhibition season, quickly got up after the hit and went after Joseph, which instigated a brief melee between the teams.
“Dylan was playing good, so you certainly wish he could stay in the game,” Blashill said. “A little bit at times in the game we lost some of our emotional control. Dylan is coming off his injury and gets hit from behind on the boards and he’s going to be upset.”
Blashill felt both Larkin and Joseph would get matching 10-minute penalties, but Larkin was assessed the match penalty as well, and “that’s the way they called it,” Blashill said.
Tampa’s rally was impressive
Ross Colton cut the Wings’ lead to 6-4 at 13:43 of the third period, beginning the Lightning surge. Nikita Kucherov’s power-play goal at 16 minutes 25 seconds cut the Wings’ lead to 6-5, as the Lightning inched closer, then Alex Killorn tied it 6-6 at 17:41, tapping in Hedman’s centering pass from the corner.
“They’re very offensive and if you give them space they’ll create offense and it showed,” Bertuzzi said. “We have to clean up some areas in the defensive zone.”
Bertuzzi’s third goal, on a 4-on-3 power play after the Larkin-Joseph altercation, put the Wings ahead 4-1 at 12:29 of the second period.
But then Tampa had some power-play time of its own, thanks to the Larkin penalty, and Steven Stamkos scored twice — blasts from the slot and the dot — cutting the lead to 4-3.
Bertuzzi, though, answered again giving the Wings a 5-3 lead. Coming out of the penalty box, Bertuzzi gathered the puck in the corner, skated to the hashmarks and snapped a shot past goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who raised his regular season record to a perfect 13-0-0 against the Wings.
Palat opened the Tampa scoring, after the Wings had taken a 3-0 lead.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning came into the game after an ugly 6-2 loss Tuesday at home to Pittsburgh, after the Lightning raised their championship banner.
“Zero doubt they’re one of the very best teams in the league,” Blashill said earlier of the Lightning. “Sometimes when they get down, they get more dangerous. You get up a couple and they start pushing like crazy and they get almost more dangerous at that point.”
That proved to be prophetic this night, behind a Tampa lineup that remains formidable.
Bertuzzi gave the Wings a 2-0 lead just 18 seconds into the second period with a highlight reel goal.
Nick Leddy found Bertuzzi with an outlet pass. Bertuzzi got the puck near center ice, split the Tampa defense, and snapped a shot past Vasilevskiy for his first goal.
Bertuzzi extended the lead to 3-0 with his second goal at 7:52.
Just after a Wings’ power play expired, Adam Erne’s shot from the slot hit a post and bounced off Vasilevskiy’s back settling in the crease. Bertuzzi rushed to the crease and tapped in the loose puck.
Bertuzzi made it 4-1 with his power play goal, on a 4-on-3 advantage, converting a pass from Fabbri near the post.
“The fans were amazing,” Bertuzzi said. “Packed building. It was crazy. The atmosphere felt almost like it was a playoff game. It was good to have them back.
“It was good to just play again.”
Fittingly, Larkin opened the game’s scoring.
Before the game, the Red Wings celebrated Larkin’s captaincy — they weren’t able to do it last season with no fans at LCA during the pandemic — by bringing back captains such as Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Steve Yzerman, Red Berenson and Alex Delvecchio, among others, in a ceremony that that got an already loud crowd even more energized.
Larkin scored his first goal, driving to the net and nudging a loose puck into the net, after Vasilevskiy failed to corral Fabbri’s shot from the dot.
“It was awesome to see the captains, all those great players, that was awesome,” Blashill said. “It was great to have fans in the building. All that stuff was great. Obviously the end of the game left a sour taste in the mouth.”