By: Will Burchfield
Before he was even prepared to fight, Dylan Larkin took a punch to the mouth from Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point.
Point may have bit off more than he could chew.
Larkin shed his gloves and responded in resounding fashion, landing several hard rights to Point’s chops and finishing him off with an uppercut to the chin.
The fight seemed to wake up the Red Wings, who had fallen behind 2-0 in the first period of Sunday night’s game at Little Caesars Arena. They took control from there, dominating for stretches of play in the second period, but came up short in a tough-luck 5-2 loss.
Asked afterward about the team fighting back, Larkin said, “Not enough, I guess.”
There’s no love lost between the Red Wings and the Lightning, division rivals who clashed in the playoffs in both 2015 and 2016. Whenever they meet, things tend to get chippy.
“Playing them a ton, I don’t think they like us, we don’t like them. It’s pretty clear,” said Larkin.
Larkin’s fight was the second of his career, but he hardly looked new to the trade. Asked where he learned to fight with such ferocity, the 21-year-old smiled and said, “I don’t know.”
“It just goes when it goes?” a reporter asked.
Point engaged Larkin after the latter hit Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat from behind. Initially, Larkin was caught off guard.
“I just saw (Palat) was down, before I knew it I got hit in the mouth. Didn’t really see much after that. Before I had my gloves off I got hit. I don’t know if it was a sucker punch, but I knew he was coming. I guess if you don’t have any experience you gotta be ready for that,” Larkin said.
It was also the second fight of Point’s career. He was given a two-minute roughing penalty in addition to his fighting major, while Larkin was assessed a fighting major and a minor for boarding.
Later in the first period, Tomas Tatar dropped the gloves in a scrap with Yanni Gourde. It certainly wasn’t the usual pugilists for the Red Wings.
“I wasn’t planning on fighting,” said Larkin, who was bloodied by Point’s initial blow. “Tats and I aren’t the most likely to fight, but it was good to get the guys going. It seemed like we responded after that.”
Jeff Blashill agreed.
“I thought we were excellent after that, really for the rest of the first, and in the second we were dominant at times. I thought it woke us up and we dug in, and I think it’s great for guys to stick up for themselves and stick up for each other,” Blashill said.
For Larkin, the coach feels this is especially important. Players around the league need to know he won’t be taken advantage of.
“I think going back to Dylan’s first year there was liberties taken with him, and I think it’s good for him that he sticks up for himself. I don’t think he had much of a choice in that fight, to be honest with you. I thought we should have come out with a power play. I’m not sure where the boarding call came from.
“But all in all he’s a big-time competitor who wants to win. When you want to win that bad, those kinds of things are going to happen.”
Since the Red Wings and the Lighting were placed in the same division in the 2013-14 season, they’ve developed quite the rivalry. The Lighting have won the last nine regular season encounters, but the games are typically close and hard-fought.
The two teams play once more this season, at Tampa Bay in February.
“The rivalry continues to get better and better,” said Justin Abdelkader. “With those couple playoff series and even the [regular season] games we’ve played them, they’ve been hard, physical at times. Developing some hatred, for sure, but those are fun games to play in. If you ask any of the guys, these are games you want to play in.”