Marco Kasper makes debut as Detroit Red Wings best Toronto Maple Leafs, 5-2

Detroit Free Press

What a night for the Detroit Red Wings.

There was a time late in the second period Sunday at Scotiabank Arena when four of their most recent top first-round picks were scrumming with the Toronto Maple Leafs, shoving and jawing with divisional rivals. An older first-round pick, Dylan Larkin, scored a hat trick en route to a 5-2 celebration.

Even with their third victory over the past four games, the Wings (34-33-9) stayed among the bottom 11 teams in the standings, which is the cutoff to be eligible to move up to No. 1 overall via the draft lottery.

Marco Kasper, the No. 8 overall pick in 2022, made his NHL debut, two weeks after Simon Edvinsson, the No. 6 overall pick in 2021, made his. While they’re getting a taste of what it takes to play in the NHL, two prior top picks already are established: Moritz Seider, drafted No. 6 overall in 2019 and Lucas Raymond, drafted No. 4 overall in 2020. All were selected by general manager Steve Yzerman.

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Kasper is the first Wings 18-year-old skater to debut since Martin Lapointe in 1991.

The Wings looked energized as they took on a fourth straight opponent fighting for playoff positioning. Defenseman Olli Määttä contributed a goal and an assist in the first period. Larkin’s 29th goal of the season pushed him to a personal-best 74 points in one season. Larkin reached 30 goals when he connected on Ben Chiarot’s shot midway through the third period, then scored again with 2.:12 to play on an empty-net goal.

It was the second game in two nights for the Leafs, who beat the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, banking two key points to try to gain against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the race for second place in the Atlantic Division and home-ice advantage in the first round.

Kasper’s place

The Wings wasted no time getting Kasper into the lineup after recalling him from Sweden following Rögle’s elimination from the playoffs. His call-up was announced late Thursday, just in time for him to fly with the Wings to Winnipeg, where they played Friday. He took part in the warmups that night. The team had a scheduled day off Saturday, so Sunday’s morning skate was his first time taking part in drills. Kasper started Sunday night on a line with Andrew Copp — an experienced NHL center who plays a strong defensive game — and Raymond. Kasper was in the starting lineup, losing the opening draw to John Tavares.

Nedeljkovic in net

Alex Nedeljkovic made his fifth start since being called up March 23 because of an injury to Ville Husso. It was because of Kasper that Nedeljkovic faced a penalty shot midway through the first period — he made the save on David Kampf — awarded because Kasper closed his hand on the puck during a chaotic scramble in the crease. It already was 1-1 at that point, with Calle Jarnkrok (a Wings draft pick from 2010) scoring on a rebound just as the Wings had killed off a penalty to Adam Erne. Nedeljkovic had made 36 saves when Tavares scored on a power play six minutes into the third period.

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What a start

Quieting the home crowd with an early goal makes for a good start. That’s what Määttä did 1:29 into the first period when he got the puck off a draw and raced off up ice, firing a shot from the high slot that went under Matt Murray’s blocker. Jonatan Berggren made it 2-1 at 12:45, when he took a pass from Robert Hägg in the neutral zone, protected the puck as two defenders closed in, stepped into Toronto’s zone and fired a shot that hit the crossbar and sank into the net. The Leafs changed goaltenders with 3:44 to play, pulling Murray after he was upended when Raymond lost an edge and crashed into him. Ilya Samsonov was in net when Larkin scored with 38.2 seconds to go in the first period, taking advantage of a turnover by the Leafs to put the Wings up by two goals.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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