Steve Yzerman led the Lightning into Joe Louis Arena for the first time since leaving the Red Wings organization to become the General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he would find the reunion a bittersweet affair.
The Lightning started the game well, putting some early pressure on Detroit's Jimmy Howard and laying out hard hits in the first few minutes of play, but the Red Wings would apply their own pressure battling for the puck in the Tampa zone. Pavel Datsyuk lost the puck from in front of the Tampa net, but Johan Franzen was able to retrieve it for a shot on Dwayne Roloson. The rebound kicked free to Todd Bertuzzi, who threw to Datsyuk as he lunged forward into the slot. The Russian sniper found the puck in open ice and fired the puck past the Tampa netminder for a 1-0 lead.
Tampa would attempt to even the score, including a pair of quality stops by Howard on Steve Downie and Victor Hedman, but the next goal belonged to the home side. Reversing the play from a Tampa attack, Valtteri Filppula carried the puck into the zone, behind the net and tossed the puck to Jonathan Ericsson as the defenseman pinched in from the blue line to the top of the face-off circles. Unleashing a shot that trickled through Roloson's leg pads, the Red Wings went up by two goals before the first intermission after dominating the shot clock, 18-8.
In the second period, Tampa would still be limited to six shots, but the Lightning would capitalize when Ericsson was whistled for a trip on Nate Thompson midway through the period. Teddy Purcell grabbed a loose puck from below the goal line and fired a perfect pass up to Martin St. Louis in the slot, who one-timed a laser to the top shelf past Howard's head.
Tampa seemed set to take momentum from the goal, but was forced back on the defensive when Thompson was given two minutes for a slash on Johan Franzen. The Tampa penalty kill, however, rose to the challenge and successfully kept the Wings off the board.
Steven Stamkos took part in a dramatic finish to the period, sending a puck from the half boards back to Matt Gilroy at the blue line, then taking a furious return pass just outside of the crease to beat Howard before the net-minder could react with just 14 seconds left.
If a storybook ending would see the Lightning carrying the day for their GM, Detroit coach Mike Babcock had the power to deliver a re-write of the script. Attacking Tampa's defense from the drop of the puck, Pavel Datsyuk broke into the Tampa zone, going one on on with Roloson before getting hooked down by Eric Brewer.
The Joe Louis crowd rose to their feet, clearly anticipating a penalty shot, and referee Darren Gibbs clearly seemed to consider the position of both Brewer and Datsyuk for a long moment, but decided to only award Detroit the minor penalty.
The Wings would cash in almost as quickly as a penalty shot might have lasted, however, as Datsyuk won the draw off of the faceoff and started a quick cycle. Receiving the puck from Niklas Lidstrom, Datsyuk sent a pass from the wall back to Lidstrom in the slot, and the Detroit captain fired a pass to Tomas Holmstrom, who camped at his customary spot just outside the Tampa crease. Taking the pass at the side of the net, Holmstrom tapped the puck past Roloson's leg pad for the go-ahead goal just nine seconds into the power play.
Tampa appeared to have a chance to equalize the match once again when Jiri Hudler high-sticked Purcell with just over ten minutes left, but Detroit's puck possession allowed them to control play shorthanded for almost the entire penalty.
The rally was dealt another blow just after the penalty expired. Jakub Kindl would carry the puck out of his own zone and straight through the Tampa defense before passing off to Darren Helm just outside above the faceoff dot. Muscling through Victor Hedman, Helm made himself space and slapped a shot through to restore a two goal lead for Detroit.
Tampa's remaining hopes were finally stomped out when Vincent Lecavalier attempted to lift Todd Bertuzzi's stick behind the net, driving it into the power forward's forehead and drawing enough blood to warrant a double minor with five minutes left in regulation.
Matt Gilroy nearly cut the deficit in half early on, breaking through the Detroit powerplay to go one on on with Jimmy Howard, but the goaltender kept his cool and delivered a brilliant glove save. Tampa would continue to look for opportunities to spring Stamkos or St. Louis shorthanded, managing another attempt for the former Rocket Richard trophy winner, but Howard would make the saves his team needed, preserving the 4-2 victory.