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Lightning seek bounce-back win against Red Wings

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A shutout loss to a cellar dweller amid the chase for top spot in the Central Division normally would be an issue, but the Tampa Bay Lightning are looking at the bigger picture.

When the Lightning play their second road game in as many days against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday, on the heels of Saturday’s 1-0 shootout loss, the defending Stanley Cup champions are more concerned about preparing for the upcoming playoffs.

Sure, the Lightning (34-14-3, 71 points) are pushing to finish atop the three-way dogfight with the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers in the Central Division standings. But experience has taught them what’s more important in the future, and that’s stronger defensive play.

That’s why the Lightning aren’t lamenting their loss in the Motor City.

“Guys were super responsible, didn’t see a lot of odd-man rushes,” Tampa Bay goaltender Curtis McElhinney said. “You know everybody was in position making sure they were on the defensive side of the puck at all times. That’s going to be key for us moving forward here.”

The shootout loss snapped Tampa Bay’s four-game winning streak.

“I would take that game again and take those same chances again and bet that a few more than zero would go in the net,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, whose team has not been swept in a back-to-back series this season. “You’ve got to tip your hat to the other team. They defended, and when they broke down, their goalie made the saves for them. Probably fitting it went to a shootout, and then it’s anybody’s game.”

Thanks to a big performance from goaltender Thomas Greiss — 33 saves through overtime — the Red Wings (18-26-9, 45 points) took a major step forward with the win that came thanks to Sam Gagner’s goal in the eighth round of the shootout.

Greiss has recorded consecutive shutouts, having blanked Columbus 1-0 this past Tuesday.

“I’m playing better and I got a couple bounces,” Greiss said. “There were a couple two-on-ones, they could have scored because it was an empty net and they just missed. Those are big.”

Detroit, which finished at the bottom of the league last season — 23 points back of the 30th-place Ottawa Senators — surpassed last season’s win total of 17 in 71 games.

“We are a much better hockey team this year than we were a year ago,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “We’ve won a number of games with young guys in the lineup and that’s a big thing for our organization. That shouldn’t discredit the older guys in the lineup because we had a number of them that have really done a great job here. We’re a better defensive team. Large parts of the year we’ve had better moxie with the puck.”

Among those young players being integrated is 2018 first-round draft pick Joe Veleno. He’s been held without a point in three games, but earning more and more ice time. He was even a regular during the overtime against Tampa Bay and held his own.

“The time of year, when we are out the playoffs, makes those decisions easier,” Blashill said. “But it’s also what you should do if they’ve earned it. If they hadn’t earned, I wouldn’t have given them those, but they had. I think Joe has been very accountable in the three games he’s played.”

–Field Level Media

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