By Will Burchfield
Tomas Tatar raised both arms above his head and the weight came tumbling off his shoulders. His third goal of the night — and the first hat trick of his career — was the antidote to two months of frustration.
“It’s perfect timing,” he said afterward.
Indeed. Tatar’s big night lifted the Detroit Red Wings to a 6-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks and helped them salvage the final contest of their five-game homestand. They had gone winless through the first four.
“We needed that,” said Tatar. “I just felt like we played the whole game really good. After four losses, we needed to bounce back like that.”
There’s no denying it’s been a tough start to the season for Tatar. Entering Saturday’s contest, he had just four goals through 31 games — a ten-goal pace for the season. Having scored at least 19 goals each of the past three years, including 29 in 2014-15, he is counted on for much, much more.
He delivered on Saturday night.
“Good for him,” said Jeff Blashill. “Certainly from a scorer’s standpoint, you feel good about yourself when you score. And he’s a scorer.”
Tatar was bound to have a game like this soon. He has a 12.2 career shooting percentage, but was down to 6 percent through the first 31 games of this season. That kind of regression was too severe to continue.
And more than anything else, it said Tatar simply wasn’t getting the bounces. He’s been shooting the puck as frequently as ever — 2.16 shots per game this season, 2.17 for his career — and he’s been sniffing around the net with the puck on his stick. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t gone in.
Midway through Saturday’s game, Tatar’s luck finally turned. After his shot from the right-wing boards was deflected by Anaheim’s Cam Fowler, the puck ricocheted off the end boards into the crease, bounced off goalie Jonathan Bernier’s skate, then off his back, and finally into the net.
Tatar smiled, as the Hockey Gods did the same.
The goal, Tatar’s second of the night, cut Anaheim’s lead to 3-2. It was the first of four unanswered and the start of Detroit’s comeback.
“It gave us a lift for sure. We’ve needed a bounce like that all season,” Tatar said. “It went in and everyone just started playing, it was a game-changer for sure. I’ve been saying it all year, we need more bounces like this. Obviously we need to play better, too, but these bounces change the game.”
Steve Ott, who gave the Wings a lift of his own when he fought Anaheim’s Joseph Cramarossa in the first period, agreed.
“That was full of momentum” said Ott. “Right away, the buzz in the arena, you could feel it, you could feel it on the bench. That whole mindset just gave us an uplifting moment. It’s honestly like we’ve been waiting for it for the last couple weeks now, something to give us a chance, give us a break and I felt like that was the turning point.”
Said Henrik Zetterberg, “It was nice to see that it was an ugly one that went in.”
Tatar’s third goal was anything but ugly. After Anthony Mantha forced a turnover in Anaheim’s zone and Zetterberg knocked the puck to Tatar, the slick-mitted Czech walked in alone on John Gibson, faked to his backhand and then roofed the puck over Gibson’s outstretched pad.
That’s more like it.
For the Wings to go anywhere this season, they’ll need Tatar to be a part of it. He played a huge role on Saturday night and the team busted out of its slump as a result.
“Now you’ve gotta build on it,” Blashill said. “I think that’s the biggest key. You just gotta keep grinding. Tats has to come out on Monday (versus the Hurricanes) and play with the same compete level.
“For us to be a great hockey team, we’re going to have to have ultra, ultra, ultra compete — we can’t have good compete. I thought tonight we had ultra compete and now Tats and the rest of our players are going to have to do that on Monday.”
They’ll do so with lighter shoulders because Tatar, at long last, put some of the weight on his own.