Steven Stamkos nearly made his general manager’s homecoming to Detroit that much more special.
With Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman watching high above the ice, Stamkos exemplified another relentless offensive effort by erasing a two-goal deficit to send a 2-2 tie into the final 20 minutes before he and the Lightning eventually fell 4-2 to the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday night.
A Red Wings captain for 20 years and a four-time Stanley Cup champion within the organization, Yzerman, in his first trip back to Detroit as a Lightning executive, watched Stamkos take a beautiful cross-ice pass from Matt Gilroy and hammer a one-timer past goaltender Jimmy Howard to draw Tampa Bay even with 14 seconds to go in the second period.
Tomas Holmstrom then broke a 2-2 tie on the power play in the third after batting a puck out of midair at 4:22 for what would hold up as the game-winner.
Darren Helm followed up with his third of the season with just over six minutes left in regulation for insurance.
The win was Detroit’s sixth in a row and also gave the Red Wings the same number of consecutive victories over the Lightning, dating back to the 2003-04 season.
Detroit is now 10-2-0 in its last 12 games after rebounding from a six-game losing streak that spanned the end of October and continued into November.
“I think even though we lost a few games on the road, we definitely felt like we were a better team than what we were letting the record show,” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.
Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Ericsson also had goals for Detroit, which pulled into a first-place tie atop the Western Conference by matching Minnesota with 31 points.
Todd Bertuzzi helped set up Detroit’s first goal at 4:58 of the opening period, shoveling a pass to Datsyuk in the slot who hammered it home past Dwayne Roloson to put the Red Wings up one.
Roloson, in his first start in over a week, stopped 31 of 35 shots on the night.
Following Datsyuk’s opening tally, a video tribute was shown on the scoreboard honoring Yzerman. After the montage, the message "Welcome back…" flashed on the screen followed by a live shot of the long-time Red Wing great watching the game, which prompted a wave from him, an ovation from fans and stick taps by players on both sides.
The applause continued after Ericsson doubled the lead by wristing one to the far post off a feed from Valtteri Filppula, who skated behind the net before centering one for the Red Wings forward in the slot with under nine minutes to go in the first.
Detroit continued to attack the Lightning net even after settling in to its comfortable two-goal lead, but Roloson was equal to the task.
He made a highlight-worthy stop on a rebound created by a deflection of Niklas Lidstrom’s shot, which rung off the left post, landed in the blue paint and was whacked at by Holmstrom from close range.
Roloson’s pad stopped that attempt and he then froze the puck to keep the Wings from going up by three. Detroit wasn't done peppering Roloson with shots, however. As time ran down in the first, Roloson made two more great stops back-to-back, including an additional save against Lidstrom and another on Henrik Zetterberg to keep the score 2-0 heading into the first intermission.
Lidstrom's try was a redirect attempt from the left circle that Roloson blocked, with the puck kicking out to Zetterberg in the low slot for a quick wrister. The Lightning goalie, though, swallowed it up to thwart another great scoring chance for Detroit.
Martin St. Louis also scored for Tampa Bay, which will return home empty-handed after dropping both contests of a two-game road trip.
The Lightning have now lost four of their past six.
St. Louis’ power-play goal midway through the second frame cut the deficit to one, also sparking the Lightning rally.
Stamkos then tied it at 19:46 from down low, beating Howard as he was coming back across the crease before regaining his position in the net.
The Lightning center now has 10 goals in his past 12 games and 16 total on the season, tying him with Phil Kessel for the NHL lead. Howard went on to settle in after that en route to making 21 saves. Despite continually being tested by Tampa Bay down in his own end down the stretch, Howard stopped a pair of good scoring chances to preserve the lead, including a nice snag of a wrist shot by Gilroy to snuff out a shorthanded breakaway.