Next challenge for Detroit Red Wings: Stringing together impressive wins

Detroit Free Press

Beating one elite opponent won’t ultimately mean much if the Detroit Red Wings can’t do it again.

The challenge ahead takes them to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday and Florida Panthers on Saturday. The Wings earned some swagger Tuesday with how they beat the Carolina Hurricanes, but the fact is the Wings haven’t repeated as victors since doing so in early February against the Philadelphia Flyers, and before that, the Buffalo Sabres in mid-January. Those teams are both lower in the standings, while the Lightning and Panthers are battling for first place in the Eastern Conference.

“To beat these types of teams, you have to play great hockey,” coach Jeff Blashill said Wednesday. “You have to find ways to limit their chances and you have to find ways to create while you’re doing that. That’s not always easy, but we think when we play our best hockey, with the type of compete that we had, the work ethic that we had, then we think we can play with everybody in the league and find ways to win if we do that.”

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The Wings (24-24-6) have been here before: After beating the Washington Capitals in October; after beating the Vegas Golden Knights in November; after beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in January. Only the Vegas win spurred a second win. Credit the Wings for not slipping much below .500 throughout this season, but they also haven’t surged above that mark since a five-game winning streak Nov. 24-Dec. 4.

“We just have to be consistent,” forward Michael Rasmussen said. “Start to finish, we have to play our system, be ready to go, be ready to play intense and really compete. That’s all you can really ask for and I think we’ll get a good outcome if we play that way.”

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Here are reasons to be encouraged going into Tampa: Alex Nedeljkovic looked solid against Carolina after a few shaky outings. The Lightning play the Penguins on Thursday, so the Wings should have an energy edge. The Wings played well defensively Tuesday, and over the past two games the Wings have gotten goals from the first, third and fourth lines. 

“When your lines go out and they play good and they earn your trust, then you can just keep rolling them out there and you kind of get shorter shifts,” Blashill said. “You’re rolling your lines over and you become the four-line team that I think everybody wants to be in order to have success.”

Starting well is crucial. The Bolts are 21-1-4 when scoring first and 19-1-3 when leading after the first period.

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“Games are going to ebb and flow, and certainly it helps if you can, right from the drop, put the pressure on them,” Blashill said. “The reality is there’s going to be momentum back and forth and you have to be able to handle those different moments and you have to be sure that you’re trying to score when you have those opportunities when you can score because it’s critical that you don’t fall behind too far against a great team.”

The Wings and Lightning clashed back at the start of the season, when the defending Stanley Cup champions rallied from two three-goal deficits to win 7-6 in overtime. The Wings won their next game, and overall have done a good job not letting one loss slide into more than three in a row.

“It shows that everyone has each other’s backs,” Rasmussen said. “Everyone wants to do well and respond when we’re faced with adversity and faced with hard games or hard losses. It shows good camaraderie and a high care level.”

But while the losing streaks have been short, so, largely, have the winning streaks.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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