Tampa – The homecoming couldn’t have come out better for Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde.
Returning to the arena where Lalonde was part of a coaching staff that won Stanley Cups and just missed a third, and matching wits against friends Lightning coach Jon Cooper and assistant Jeff Blashill (who Lalonde replaced with the Wings), Lalonde earned early bragging rights.
The Wings won the first game Tuesday between the teams this season, 4-2.
Lalonde greeted many well-wishers and old friends after Tuesday’s morning skate, and talked fondly of returning to Tampa.
“Good memories,” Lalonde said. “Relationships, seeing guys. Winning the Stanley Cup (on home ice in 2021). Those are the things that resonate.”
The victory gave the Wings (13-7-5) two victories in the first two games in what appeared to be challenging road trip.
Michael Rasmussen, Jonatan Berggren, and empty-net goals from Adam Erne and David Perron, while goaltender Ville Husso stopped 45 shots.
Berggren’s goal provided the cushion in the third period, with the Wings clinging to a 1-0 lead.
Olli Maatta’s shot from the top of the slot was redirected by Berggren in front, giving the Wings the two-goal lead at 5 minutes, 59 seconds of the third period.
Tampa’s Steven Stamkos, with the goalie pulled, cut the Wings’ lead to 2-1 with his 14th goal, just beating Husso between the pads and post.
Erne’s empty-net goal, his fourth, gave the Wings the two-goal lead back, 3-1, but Tampa closed to within a goal again on Brayden Point’s 11th goal off a scramble in front of Husso at 17:34, just 1:12 after Erne’s goal.
Perron’s goal with 25 seconds left finally clinched it.
Husso preserved the lead with another stellar performance, stopping 27 of those 45 Tampa shots in a wild third period.
Dominik Kubalik found Rasmussen splitting through the Lightning defense and skating alone on Tampa goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Rasmussen finished with his fourth goal, just 1:54 into the second period.
Vasilevskiy was tremendous in the opening first period, frustrating the Wings on several prime scoring chances.
Vasilevskiy stopped Kubalik on a breakaway attempt, then during a flurry late in the period, Vasilevskiy stoned the entire line of Rasmussen, Kubalik and Pius Suter, each of whom had quality looks and scoring chances.
The Wings have talked all season about the need to beat elite teams, something they didn’t do last season and have had middling success with this early season.
“You have to give the guys a ton of credit (to this point of the schedule),” Lalonde said. “In my eyes, it’s a little overachieving. Some nights, we look ahead of schedule of where we want to be in our growth but sometimes the reality is the inability to beat real good teams.”We’re doing some good things, it’s just that margin of error is thinner against these elite teams.”
Defeating Tampa was a positive step.
“It’s a real big game for us,” said Oskar Sundqvist after the morning skate. “We’ve talked about it, how we haven’t gotten wins against the top teams in the league. This is a chance to change that. It would be good news for our team.”
The Wings limited their mistakes, and overall, kept Tampa to the outside.
“You can’t afford to make too many mistakes against a team like Tampa,” Sundqvist said. “When you don’t play the system the right way, it’s not going to work.”
Beating Vasilevskiy was an accomplishment of its own for the Wings. With the defeat, Vasilevskiy is now 13-2-0 in his career against the Wings.