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.
The Lightning overcame a 6-3 Wings’ lead early in the third period.
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.
Dylan Larkin opened the Wings’ scoring and Vladislav Namestnikov added another, and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 41 shots.
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.
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.
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 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,” coach Jeff Blashill said of the Lightning earlier. “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.
“You look across and they have Kucherov and (Brayden) Point. Just on those two, you probably got two of the top-10 NHL forwards in the league,” Blashill siad. “(Defensemen Ryan) McDonagh and (Victor) Hedman, there’s other good players at each of these positions, two of the top-10 defensemen in the league in my mind.
“Probably without a whole lot of argument, you got probably one of the best goalies in the league (Vasilevskiy). With Stamkos, you got one of the best shooters in the league.
“You have lots of talent.”
Tampa’s Ross Colton cut the Wings’ lead to 6-4 at 13:43 of the third period, beginning the Lightning rally.
Playing in his first game since missing most of last season with back surgery, Bertuzzi put on a memorable opening night performance.
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 Robby Fabbri near the post.
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.