By Ashley Dunkak
@AshleyDunkak

DETROIT – Little has come easily for the Detroit Red Wings to this point — from making the playoffs to getting consistency from a goaltender — so it seems only natural that the first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning will not be any different.

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Detroit has let slip some huge opportunities this series. On Thursday, with a 2-0 lead in Game 4 and a chance to go up 3-1 in the series, Detroit allowed a comeback victory by Tampa Bay.

On Monday, having taken a 3-2 series lead with a win in Game 5 in Tampa, the Red Wings had a chance to finish off the series in front of their home crowd at Joe Louis Arena.

Instead, Tampa Bay forced Game 7 with a 5-2 win that brought the series even.

Neither team has won two games in a row this series. Before the series started, the Lightning were heavily favored, but the competitive nature of the games has not surprised Detroit.

“I think we match up well against each other,” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “It just goes to show you the margins in the playoffs are so slim. One game you’ve got the puck luck with you, and the next game you don’t. You’ve got to stay with it, don’t hang your head, stay positive and get back at ‘er here. Flush this one tonight, and get back at it tomorrow.”

Despite the opportunity Detroit had to close the series out, Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said it does not shock him that the series is going to seven games.

“Two good teams playing,” Zetterberg said. “It’s a good series. Not a big surprise for us in here that it goes to seven. Maybe it’s a surprise for people on the outside, but we’re looking forward to going and playing Game 7.”

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Since the Red Wings did not wrap up the series with a win Monday, they will return to Tampa for the series finale. Just as Detroit head coach Mike Babcock encouraged players not to dwell on the Game 4 loss, he urged players to stay levelheaded after this most recent defeat.

The Red Wings allowed two goals in the first period and another in the second period Monday but fought back to 3-2 thanks to some great saves by goaltender Petr Mrazek and a pair of goals by forward Tomas Tatar.

“I said to the guys after the first [period], ‘Don’t let one bad play get in the way and you start thinking about losing,'” Babcock said. “Just play. In other words, focus on doing your job, you don’t even have to focus on being great. Just do your individual part, and you can be great together. That to me is the key, but scoring first is always a plus.

“It just seems to get you more relaxed and under control and play,” Babcock continued. “We’re going into their building. You’ve always got to play a 10-minute game and a 50-minute game on the road in the playoffs. In other words, you’ve got to get settled down the first 10 minutes, then you get on with playing.”

After the Red Wings pulled within 3-2, the Lightning scored again with less than five minutes remaining in the game, and then they stretched their lead to 5-2 on an empty net goal with a minute to go.

Kronwall said the team made some costly miscues but overall felt good about the way the team played.

“I thought we made some mistakes off the rush,” Kronwall said. “They got like three off the rush, I think. It’s tough to spot a team like this breakaways. They’ve got some really skilled forwards. Other than that, I thought we did a lot of good things, but the puck just didn’t go our way tonight.

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“I think we’ve been doing a lot of good things here as of late,” Kronwall added. “We’ve got to clean up a few areas, but biggest thing is that we just keep coming. It doesn’t matter what the score is or what the outcome might be. We’ve got to come back here and play a good game … Pretty much the same way after [Game 4] … We went down [to Tampa] and played a really solid game. That’s what we’ve got to do again.”