Lucas Raymond’s hat trick stops Red Wings from hearing the death knell — for now

PITTSBURGH — The Detroit Red Wings’ season could have been over Thursday night. Arguably, it should have been.

Because of Lucas Raymond, it isn’t. Not yet, at least.

It was not a happy Red Wings dressing room in the wake of Detroit’s 6-5 overtime loss to the Penguins. By the time the doors opened to media, it was pin-drop silent, save for the sound of tape ripping off socks. Detroit’s players knew the opportunity they missed, on a night they once again got help around the league but couldn’t do enough to help themselves. The result catapulted Pittsburgh into pole position for the last Eastern Conference wild card, up one point on the Red Wings and Washington Capitals with three games remaining for all.

By the time Dylan Larkin broke the silence by stepping into the middle of the room, in front of cameras and microphones, he still was living on the razor’s edge of the night’s emotions.

“To build yourself up again after (a 2-1 loss to Washington on Tuesday) and come out and play like that tonight, it says a lot about our group,” he said. “And it just hurts that we only got one point.”

The implications of that lost point are real. Whereas MoneyPuck estimated before Thursday’s game that a regulation win over Pittsburgh would boost Detroit’s playoff odds by nearly 20 points to 44 percent, the overtime loss put them under 20 percent — though the Capitals’ regulation loss in Buffalo helped a bit.

The thing is, though, the odds could have been nearly nonexistent. At one point, it looked like they would be. Detroit trailed 5-3 in the third period, less than eight minutes from a functional death knell to its season. And the reason the Red Wings will wake up Friday with a credible path forward despite that was no secret to anyone watching.

“I give Lucas Raymond a lot of credit,” Larkin said. “He showed some stones tonight to play the way he played, in a game like that. He was the best player on the ice out there with some world-class players. That’s how you show up and play in a game like that. And for a young guy to do that, it’s unbelievable.”

Don’t mistake the bottom line here. The Red Wings left a lot out there Thursday night. They surrendered five goals in regulation, which in April seldom spells a happy ending. And the line of Larkin and Raymond with Alex DeBrincat was on the ice for three of them.

Larkin lamented having “a couple pucks on our sticks, and we’re all leaning the wrong way — the offensive side — and it goes the other way. And (Sidney Crosby) is too good of a player, he’s playing too well right now to leave him up to that. That was kind of the story of our night.”

It was, indeed, a lot of the story. So was a Daniel Sprong turnover on a third-period Red Wings power play that led to a Penguins breakaway to make it 5-3. And so was the Penguins’ fourth goal, on which Raymond had his feet taken out from under him seconds before Pittsburgh scored.

But those would have been the whole story if not for the fact Raymond, in the biggest game of his young career, also had his best one.

When Detroit went down 1-0 early, he leveled the game less than a minute later. When the Penguins went up 2-1, it was Raymond who tied it again seconds before the first intermission.

And then, when the clock was ticking loudest, with Detroit down 5-3 with just over seven minutes to play, it was Raymond who won a race to a puck below the goal line and set up Larkin to make it 5-4. And Raymond again somehow tied it two minutes later.

“If you’re looking at a step in his career,” Larkin said, “man, that’s a performance that I’m very impressed by.”

That may ring hollow in the wake of a must-win loss. It certainly seemed to for Raymond, who like every Red Wings player took solace in getting one standings point but still wasn’t over letting the second slip.

In the scope of his young career, though, it was a hugely important game. Raymond is the highest draft pick Steve Yzerman has had, picked fourth in 2020. Detroit needs him to be a superstar, a player it can lean on in big games.

And though it didn’t flip the result Thursday, he was all of those things.

It’s just that the moment didn’t leave much room to embrace that silver lining. Not now, at least. When Larkin was asked about his line, he made that clear.

“Well, it was one goal short,” he said. “And it stings, it really does.”

Now, for the umpteenth time since they began to collapse at the start of March, the Red Wings find themselves looking to respond.

Somehow, they are still just a point back from snapping their seven-year playoff drought. And though the team’s mood in PPG Paints Arena was dour, Larkin was already trying to push through his visible disappointment and turn the page.

There was a real chance their story could have ended Thursday. In a week, we might all look back and say it did — that the lost point in Pittsburgh really was the difference.

But because of Raymond, the Red Wings can still look forward, for at least two more days.

“We’ve got to get two points,” Larkin said. “We’ve got to go into Toronto and get two points. I don’t think there’s a better place to do it, on a Saturday night, and they’re going to be gunning for us after the last time we were in there. So again, to pick ourselves up and regroup, come back and have a performance like we did tonight, it’s going to be difficult. But I know this group has it in us.”

(Photo: Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

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