With 25 games remaining in the season, tonight’s Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings matchup has playoff implications for both teams. You read that correctly. As we head down the stretch, the Detroit Wings are in the thick of the fight for one of the Eastern Conference wildcard berths. A win tonight would catapult the Wings past the Buffalo Sabres- the team that thwarted the Bolts in overtime Thursday night, and the Pittsburg Penguins- the team the Bolts will face tomorrow night. The two points would put the Red Wings in the second wildcard position, just a point behind the New York Islanders with 4 games in hand. The Lightning, on the other hand, are one of only two teams in the NHL whose first round playoff matchup seems already determined. The other is the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs and Bolts appear destined for a repeat of last year’s first-round matchup. The only real question is- who will secure home ice advantage in that one? The Lightning desperately need the two points tonight to help keep their home ice advantage hopes alive.
Wings Come Out Red Hot
It is not luck that has put the Red Wings in playoff contention. It is hard work and solid play at both ends of the ice. Coming into tonight’s game, they had won two in a row and seven of their last eight games, beating several tough, playoff-bound opponents along the way. The Bolts have enjoyed good success against the Red Wings over the past several years. But that has not been the case this year. The Lightning have dropped both games to Detroit thus far this year. After a heartbreaking OT loss to Buffalo last game, the Bolts will be determined to change their fate tonight.
It did not look promising early on in the first, as Detroit dominated much of the play. But at 9:04, Nikita Kucherov fed Brayden Point who got in alone on Ville Husso. Point made no mistake in finding the back of the net.
RU KIDDING ME, POINTER?!?! pic.twitter.com/hAMwV5VrEw
— Andrei Vasilevskiy Fan Account (@TBLightning) February 26, 2023
The Red Wings had a few more opportunities. Tyler Bertuzzi, in particular, had some great scoring chances. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped them all. The period ended with shots on goal favoring the Red Wings 12-9.
Red Hot Wings Fall Short in Second
Detroit looked good in the first period. But they were positively dominant throughout the second period. The Lightning struggled to put a shot on net for the first half of the frame. When they did manage to get in the Detroit zone, they were guilty of too many extra passes and not simply putting the puck on net. Even on their power play, the Bolts could not manage a shot. The Red Wings looked more dangerous than the Lightning on the Lightning power play!
But the Bolts had one thing going for them. Andrei Vasilevskiy. Thursday night’s game had been a disappointing one for the Lightning netminder. He’d given up 6 goals on just 23 shots. Sure, the defense hadn’t been supportive in that game, but Vasilevskiy was admittedly unhappy with his game. He was determined to rebound this game. And he did. He was unbeatable in the second period, as the Red Wings fired 20 shots his way.
Then, as the seconds ticked away in the frame, the Bolts (with just two shots of their own to that point in the period), mounted a final rush. Point fed Kucherov and Kucherov’s shot somehow trickled through the pads of Husso with seven seconds left on the clock.
Closing out the second period in style!
Bally Sports+ is a new option for watching Lightning games. Learn more here ➡️ https://t.co/Qd5xnvaL8E#NHL | #GoBolts pic.twitter.com/Xt6sdGBQ7F
— Bally Sports Florida & Bally Sports Sun (@BallySportsFL) February 26, 2023
Despite the red hot period, the Wings went to the dressing room down 2-0.
Vasilevskiy Cools Off Wings
Despite the heartbreaking goal to finish up the second, the Red Wings came out firing once again in the third. Still, nothing was getting past Andrei Vasilevskiy. Detroit’s aggressive offensive play did draw two Lightning penalties. The Bolts’ penalty kill stepped up when it needed to and really did not give the Wings many good opportunities. In fact, the best chance on a Detroit power play was Alex Killorn shorthanded. He had Husso beat, but the shot rang off the post.
Killorn did get an opportunity later in the period. With Husso pulled for the extra attacker, Brandon Hagel got the puck to Killorn and this time, he made no mistake firing it home into the empty net.
Vasilevskiy stopped 13 more shots that period for a grand total of 45. The 45-save shutout tied a franchise record for most saves in a shutout. It was his second shutout of the season, and second in his last seven starts. After a rough game Thursday night, Andrei Vasilevskiy silenced any critics tonight!
With the two points, the Bolts pull within two points of the Toronto Maple Leafs with one game in hand. The Red Wings remain one point out of the wildcard position but still in the thick of the race.
3 Stars (Let’s be honest- there really was only one)
Show-stopping and perfect. ✨
Andrei Vasilevskiy made 45 saves on 45 shots in the @TBLightning's big win for a @pepsi shutout — Big Cat style. 😎 pic.twitter.com/D09dcTBCG5
— NHL (@NHL) February 26, 2023
1- Vasilevskiy’s legs
2- Vasilevskiy’s glove
3- Vasilevskiy’s blocker
Honorable mention goes to Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov who each tallied a goal and an assist but this one was all Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning will finish up this back-to-back mini road trip in Pittsburgh tomorrow night as they face off against the Penguins at 6pm.
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