DETROIT -- It’s a calm that’s been passed down, a poise the youngest Red Wings are absorbing. It doesn’t matter if they’re facing a Lightning team that was a popular pick to come out of the Eastern Conference, one loaded with offensive talent including one of the best pure goal scorers on the planet in Steven Stamkos.
It doesn’t matter that there’s an inexperienced goalie or that the Lightning looked like they were going to run Detroit out of the building at times at Tampa Bay.
The veterans on the Red Wings know how the postseason works. Get home. Make adjustments. Get the matchups you want and, especially when you can add an important player like Justin Abdelkader back in the lineup, things will turn.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was prescient in his Tuesday morning observation that he felt his team had more to give. On Tuesday night, we got to see what it looked like when they gave it.
Detroit’s 3-0 win in Game 3 was a near-perfect performance by the Red Wings, who capitalized on every advantage that came with the series shifting back to Detroit. Their 23-year-old goalie, Petr Mrazek, stopped all 22 shots he faced, including a Brian Boyle breakaway in the third period that would have cut a two-goal lead in half.
The penalty kill was perfect, shutting down all six Tampa Bay power plays, including a second-period 5-on-3 when Detroit’s lead was hanging on Pavel Datsyuk's first-period goal.
Babcock got the matchups he wanted, sending Datsyuk out consistently against Stamkos and having a Luke Glendening-anchored checking line contain the trio of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov that tore up the regular season.
But it all starts with the Red Wings' veteran calm and the constant expectation that things eventually will turn in Detroit’s favor during a playoff series. If the young players, who now make up a growing portion of this roster, ever wanted to panic after a four-goal loss in Game 2 or after being outshot 46-14 in Game 1, the veterans wouldn’t let them.
“Especially a young guy like me, who has been here a week and a half -- I can look and I can see they’re not getting worked up, they’re just making sure they’re getting ready for the next shift,” said forward Landon Ferraro, part of Detroit’s strong checking line. “That’s what I try to do now.”
“They’ve been in this position before,” said Riley Sheahan, whose third-period power-play goal gave Detroit a 2-0 lead. “They have experience. They work so hard out on the ice. When you hear them talk, the room goes silent. You know when they’re talking, it’s important. ... They’re always spot-on.”
For example, one of the intermission messages was a reminder that it’s critical Detroit cut off the Lightning in the neutral zone. If they let Tampa Bay play with speed, they’re toast. Cut guys off, spend less time playing defense and make a fast transition to offense.
Simple. Effective. Spot-on.
“Zetterberg, Kronwall, Datsyuk -- guys that have been here, they grew up in this atmosphere,” said Drew Miller, who pounced on a Stamkos turnover for a big clear during Tampa Bay’s two-man advantage. “It’s an atmosphere where you just know you have to do it. You know you’re going to get it done. You can’t be worried.”
Instead, the worry shifts to the Lightning. They were the favorites, a team for which it is still easy to build a Stanley Cup case. They’re deep, they’re highly skilled and they’re now two losses away from an early exit.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he expected a much tighter game in Game 3, pointing out that the Red Wings were a 100-point team during the regular season.
This was never going to be a lopsided series in his mind. After losing the first game in Detroit, he’s taking a longer-range view, as he should. Detroit played well at home, but you can’t ignore the first two games, either. In all, Tampa Bay has outshot the Red Wings 98-59.
“We need to get a bounce,” Cooper said. “If you continue to play hard, the way our group is, we’ll get those bounces. That’s why it’s not a best of three, it’s a best of seven. Now, we have a taste of what it’s like to play in this building and I imagine we’ll be better in Game 4.”
This has the makings of an extended series that will go the duration. Mrazek shook off a disappointing Game 2 to earn his first career playoff shutout. Abdelkader returned to the lineup for the first time this postseason and immediately made his presence felt. It was his pass that set up Sheahan’s power-play goal. He also made it abundantly clear he wasn’t happy with Cedric Paquette interfering with Mrazek, sending him to the ice in the third period. Abdelkader earned a roughing penalty for his reaction, but the message was sent.
“I just thought it was a pretty dirty play and was pretty upset about it,” Abdelkader said. “There’s no need for that. I took offense to it.”
His presence helped balance out an edge the Lightning had up front. Now comes the counterpunch. Tampa Bay could be closing in on the return of injured defenseman Jason Garrison. Cooper could opt to plug in the talented Jonathan Drouin, who is waiting patiently to make his playoff debut.
Whatever the response is, this Red Wings group has the poise to handle it.
“[We] just have to be confident in our game,” Miller explained. “That’s what we are. In Tampa, we didn’t play probably our best hockey but we need to get back to our game. Tonight, I think we played our way.”