Detroit — Like everybody else in this world, the Detroit Red Wings have been waiting for life to settle down a bit.
Climbing into a playoff race, being thumped right back out of it, and then trading away several key players at the deadline — the last month has taken an emotional toll. But it seems as though they’re out of the mental rut now with a strong showing in this weekend’s series against the NHL-best Boston Bruins.
Detroit dropped the first game of the series with the Bruins on Saturday in Boston, 3-2, but rebounded to steal a 5-3 win at Little Caesars Arena on Sunday.
More important than the result, Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin said, was a feeling that the team’s emotional roller coaster is behind them. There’s still hockey to be played — 16 games, to be exact — and there will be no cruise to the finish line. Even after a pair of games against Boston, Detroit has the seventh-hardest strength of schedule remaining.
“The one game against Chicago, where we had two practice days before and after, was pretty big for us to reset and just kind of get our minds focused on what we have to do to finish out the season,” Larkin said. “The emotions are kind of behind us and we can just play now.”
Larkin is talking about is the challenge of a professional: Every year, players in every sport are met with stark reminders that “this is a business.” Nobody wants to hear that emotions can get in the way of performance — and yet, it does. But according to defenseman Moritz Seider, those emotional swings can help as much as they hurt.
“It took us a little bit longer, probably, (to get over the deadline deals) than last year,” Seider said. “Obivoulsy, two really big players for our organization and even better friends that we lost. But now we have to move on.
“I think it’s even more fun winning without those guys, to just show how much character’s in that locker room.”
No matter how Detroit’s schedule looks the rest of the way, Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde is more concerned with the focus and preparation of his own team.
“I think it’s about us. When you play an opponent like that, of course, it’s a little bit of a measuring stick. Lalonde said. “… We’re gonna make big games internally for ourselves. Obviously a little easier to get up for an opponent like that, but it’s about us. It’s about our game.
“When we’re playing well, we’re just playing the right way. We’re not shooting pucks over. … We’re taking away time and space. We’re not giving up anything easy. And no matter who we play, for the most part, tonight, we did that.”
Larkin understands what the league is trying to do — but if he’s being honest, he’s not really a fan of playing back-to-back games against the same team.
This weekend’s series was a marketing gadget from the NHL, which ran both matinee games — Saturday in Boston and Sunday in Detroit — on national television and hyped the Original 6 rivalry during the buildup. In the second leg, tension was high from jump.
“Not really my favorite…but it is what it is,” Larkin said. I think we might have another one coming up with St. Louis this year.”
“If it grows TV interest, then good, but it’s not my favorite, to be honest with you.”
Beware the trapezoid
Lalonde gave credit after the game to a more nuanced aspect of goaltender Ville Husso‘s game. After a game in which Husso had 31 saves, Lalonde tipped his hat to how both of his goaltenders have grown as puck handlers this year.
“A huge credit to Alex Westlund, our goalie guy,” Lalonde said. “We got to a point with (backup goaltender Magnus) Hellberg this year — (playing the puck) is not a strength of his, so we had some approaches where he — don’t even go back and touch it, because it created chaos.”
Lalonde stressed the importance of having a goalie that can jump-start a transition.
“It just helps you break out immensely,” he said. “It’s a big part of the game.”