Detroit — How did that happen?
A game the Red Wings appeared to have in control disappeared, as the Toronto Maple Leafs rallied for a 7-4 victory on Saturday.
The Leafs scored five goals in the second half of the third period, rallying from a 4-2 deficit.
Rasmus Sandin scored his first goal of the season at 17:09, breaking a 4-4 tie, and Mitch Marner and John Tavares had empty net goals to leave the Little Caesars Arena crowd — and the Wings — stunned.
“This one hurts a lot,” said forward Dylan Larkin, who led the Wings with two goals. “We have to find a way to win those games.”
A night after a stifling defensive effort in Pittsburgh, which led to the Wings squeaking out a 3-2 shootout win, the Wings let the Leafs dictate the third period.
“They had a heck of a third period,” Larkin said. “We defended too much and didn’t press or make it hard on them in the third, and that’s game. We have to find a way to hang on to the lead there.”
Michael Bunting had a hat trick, his last two goals 2:30 apart midway in the third period, tying the score, 4-4.
On the tying goal, Bunting’s 12th, Mitch Marner stickhandled through the slot and fed Bunting alone near the crease for the easy tap in.
Bunting had cut the lead to 4-3 at 9:28, batting in Auston Matthews’ shot from the slot.
Both goals typified the defensive breakdowns the Wings just had too many of in the final minutes.
“We gave up some opportunities we didn’t need to and they had the momentum in the third period,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “We didn’t have enough push back. Our defensive zone coverage was no good. We have to make sure we’re better than that in the defensive zone.”
Larkin had two goals (one a power play), and Tyler Bertuzzi and Vladislav Namestnikov added the others. Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 30 shots.
Pierre Engvall had the other Leafs goal, while Petr Mrazek made 31 saves to earn the victory.
Larkin opened the scoring just 1:15 into the game, then one-timed a pass from Robby Fabbri on the power play at 15:54 of the second period, his 22nd goal, giving the Wings a 4-2 lead.
Namestnikov and Bertuzzi scored 55 seconds apart early in the second period, breaking a 1-1 tie.
But the Wings couldn’t carry the positive momentum for another period.
“For four periods (this weekend) we played the way we have to play for us to be successful,” Blashill said. “We got loose in the second period, and we got real loose (defensively) in the third.”
In the end, it was another of those learning experiences the Wings have talked about often this season, specifically how to close out games.
“We let them have their way and sat back and they came at us in waves,” Larkin said. “You can’t do that for 20 minutes in this league. They’re too good of a team offensively. We let them play on the attack too much.”
The night was extra special for Blashill, who was coaching his 500th game with the Wings. Only Jack Adams (964), Sid Abel (811), Mike Babcock (786), and Scotty Bowman (701) have coached more for the Wings.
The stunning defeat sent the Wings to 19-20-6 for the season, while Toronto moved to 27-10-3.