The Detroit Red Wings looked all too familiar to Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.
Yzerman, who faced off against his former team for the first time in front of a sellout crowd of 20,849 at the St. Pete Times Forum, saw his team outshoot Detroit 40-31 in the contest, but in a hard-fought 6-2 defeat Thursday night.
Dwayne Roloson made 25 saves.
“We gave everything we had, period,” Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. “We just got beat by a better team than us. This is the best team in the league, the most experienced. They’ve got all their players and this is the standard for our league.”
Pavel Datsyuk scored twice for the Red Wings, and Justin Abdelkader, Danny Cleary, Darren Helm and Niklas Kronwall had goals.
Detroit has won three in a row and seven of their last 11. It received a 38-save effort from goaltender Jimmy Howard.
Tampa Bay and Detroit both entered the contest in second place in their respective conferences with an identical 74 points, which had them sitting at the top of their divisions.
“They’re a good team and they play fast,” Detroit head coach Mike Babcock said of his opponent. “They’ve got two of the best players in the league up front for them, but I also thought we did a lot of good things tonight as well.”
While on the power play, Cleary made it 1-0 on a tip-in in front of the net and Datsyuk doubled the margin when he cleaned up in front of the net and sent a backhand past an outstretched Roloson to make it 2-0 at 14:57.
The early advantage was cut short when Downie ‘s eighth of the year tied it at two at 14:38 of the second period.
“We played a good team tonight and our standards have to be even higher,” Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier said. “We have to take the positives from this game, and we did come back. We came back believing that we could win.”
Martin St. Louis turned in an assist on Downie’s game-tying tally, giving him points in five straight.
Tampa Bay had a chance to come out strong, gaining an 11-9 edge in shots through the first 20 minutes, but failed to convert on four first-period power play opportunities. The Lightning had a goal with the man advantage in four straight contests prior to Thursday.
The Red Wings got four unanswered goals to pull away in the final 23 minutes.
Kronwall’s shot from the high slot bounced off Hedman’s skate and in, allowing Detroit to re-take the one-goal advantage at 16:34 on the power play. Abdelkader then increased the lead to two just 1:26 later to take a 4-2 lead into the final period.
“We found a way to respond out there,” Howard said. “It was big to get two quick goals at the end of the second period.”
Datsyuk beat Roloson a second time to give Detroit a 5-2 lead midway through the third.
Helm added another on a breakaway with 1:51 remaining in regulation.
“We want to get our team to that level,” Boucher added. “We don’t know when it’s going to happen, but we have certainly made giant leaps being where we are right now.”
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