Game one of the series against the Tampa Bay Lightning was ugly. Detroit was dominated throughout a large portion of the game, and although the shot total leaned in Detroit’s favor in the end, the quality of shots and play was largely in Tampa’s favor.
Game two was more of the same, if not worse. The Red Wings never led in the game, and both times they battled back to tie the score, Tampa quickly jumped back in front.
Detroit had to make some massive adjustments coming into game three. Their forecheck had been non-existent in the first two games, the power play had been a train wreck (which didn’t change in game three), and the Tyler Johnson line had been completely dominant.
Head coach Jeff Blashill switched defenseman Brendan Smith into the lineup in favor of Kyle Quincey, played Petr Mrazek in goal instead of Jimmy Howard, and also completely restructured the line combinations. All these things culminated in a 2-0 victory in game three, and also laid out a blueprint for how Detroit can not only get the series back to even, but ultimately win.
The biggest change between game two and game three was the forecheck. The Red Wings constantly pursued Lightning puck holders in their defensive zone and the neutral zone, causing numerous turnovers, even a breakaway for Riley Sheahan. Tampa’s defensemen were forced into bad decisions with the puck, and the Wings were able to keep them out of the attacking zone for extended periods of time because of it.
Another big adjustment was putting Luke Glendening, Riley Sheahan, and Justin Abdelkader on a line together to match up with the Johnson line for Tampa. Not only did they keep the entire line off the scoreboard, but Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Alex Killorn combined for zero shots on goal.
Smith’s insertion into the lineup paid quick dividends as well, as Cedric Paquette can attest to. Not only did he add a physical presence early (three hits in the game), but also another puck moving option from the back end.
Andreas Athanasiou, who scored what was ultimately the game-winning goal, had more ice time than he had in either of the first two games, and was a nuisance for Tampa all night as well.
The lineup that Detroit played last night is as close to the best possible lineup they could create (take Jonathan Ericsson out and I’m completely happy, but that just won’t happen). This is the lineup they need to roll with the rest of the series. We know that they aren’t going to score a whole lot (two goals in each of the first three games). However, if they can rely on their defense to keep the chances against to a minimum, they will have a fighting chance. The steps that they followed in game three laid out the blueprint, now they just have to follow it to capitalize.