Lucas Raymond stays clutch, and the Red Wings are still alive because of it

EditorLast Update :
Lucas Raymond stays clutch, and the Red Wings are still alive because of it

DETROIT — Seventy-seven seconds.

That’s how close the Detroit Red Wings’ season was to ending prematurely Monday, as Detroit stared down a late 4-3 deficit to the Montreal Canadiens, the Red Wings’ playoff hopes down to just a flicker.

Detroit had pulled the goalie. It had seen the puck get behind Canadiens goalie Sam Montembeault — only to sit on his leg and somehow stay out of the net. It had seen Shayne Gostisbehere hit the goal post in one instant, then leap sky-high to keep a puck in the offensive zone. But it had not seen the goal it desperately needed.

“It was kind of a crazy sequence,” Lucas Raymond said. “Puck was bouncing all over the place it felt like, a lot of sticks flying everywhere.”

“It felt like the puck might never go in for us,” J.T. Compher said.

Then the puck found Raymond: 22 years old. Third NHL season. And more moxie than all hell.

By now, you know what happened. Raymond did not panic. Down at the goal line, he had no defender on him, he used every bit of that space. He curled to the front of the net, walked in and picked his spot. And he buried it.

“The poise he had in that moment, to take a few steps up with how hectic it was,” Compher said, “what an unbelievable play to get us tied and get us to overtime.”

When regulation expired a minute, 17 seconds later, Detroit’s season had bought itself one more day. The Red Wings got no help on the out-of-town scoreboard Monday, with the Washington Capitals blanking the Boston Bruins 2-0, but getting past regulation with a point ensured Detroit would go into Game 82 with at least a prayer.

That wasn’t nothing, considering the Red Wings at one point trailed 4-1 Monday. Even midway through the third period, they were down 4-2. Just staying alive was a better fate than it looked like they had coming.

Realistically, though, they needed more. They needed to win it in the extra frame to give themselves the best chance possible at snapping a seven-year playoff drought Tuesday.

And with 32 seconds left in the extra frame, the puck once again found Raymond — this time in his defensive zone, nearly 200 feet from the Montreal net. He had been on the ice already for nearly a minute. He was gassed. But he saw Dylan Larkin open up ice, and he sprung him with a stretch pass.

“Thought he was going for a breakaway at first,” Raymond said.

Larkin, though, was out of gas, too. And so as he corralled the puck, he took it over the blue line and waited for Raymond to jump up, too. He got his pass across. And the youngest forward on the Red Wings once again rose up to the moment.

“Just tried to get off a shot,” Raymond said. “Yeah. Happy it went in.”

The kid has a gift for understatement. Little Caesars Arena erupted as the Red Wings won 5-4.

Loudest he’s heard the building, in his three years with the team?

“I kind of blacked out, to be honest,” Raymond said. “There was a lot of guys in (the celebratory huddle). It was punches being thrown. It was probably pretty loud, yeah.”

Raymond’s play this season has been a revelation for Detroit. When the Red Wings took him fourth in the 2020 draft, he became the franchise’s highest draft pick in more than 30 years. Their best chance, in other words, at finding a star.

All season, that’s what he’s looked like. He put in a big summer of work back home in Sweden, trying to prepare himself for the year ahead. And from the jump, the fruits of that work have shown. Raymond’s goals Monday brought his season totals to 31 goals and 71 points — the latter of which leads the Red Wings.

When Larkin was out for an extended period earlier this season — a miserable stretch for Detroit — it was Raymond who stepped up to drive the offense for the team. When the Red Wings were down two goals late in Pittsburgh last week, it was Raymond delivering a hat trick (and 4-point game) to get them to overtime and salvage a must-have point.

And Monday, in a true do-or-die moment, it was Raymond again. Think about what that says, about a player that young.

“It’s impressive,” Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde said. “That’s why we need to get in these moments. There’s huge growth in it. It’s just, he’s been impressive to watch in my two years he’s been here. And he’s starting to shine in these really critical moments.”

The thing is, though, he’s not just starting. This is who Raymond is. Who he has been.

Before he was the Red Wings’ brightest young star, he was a prodigy back home in Gothenburg. He made his professional hockey debut for the storied Frölunda program when he was just 16. Back when Detroit first drafted Raymond, one of his youth coaches in Frölunda, Tobias Johansson, told me, “The biggest asset or skill I think Lucas has, is that he is playing his best when the team needs him the most, and the game is the most important.”

Raymond wanted the pressure, Johansson felt back then. “He feeds from it.”

This was something the Red Wings saw in Raymond, too. Detroit director of amateur scouting Kris Draper once described watching Raymond score a hat trick in the U18 World Championship gold medal game, rising to the moment, and how much that performance meant. “That puts a smile on your face when you’re watching it,” he said.

Really, goals like Monday’s were the kind Raymond was drafted to score.

The key is, though, you never know which star prospects will be able to carry what they’ve done at the lower levels into the world’s hardest league. The pressure is just different. You can’t truly know who will shrink in the moment, and who will rise to meet it.

Raymond is answering that question each day now.

Last month, his performance in Larkin’s absence was drawing the attention of even his most accomplished teammate. Patrick Kane has also been a young top prospect tasked with doing it at the highest level. And he has, over and over again. He’s one of the true megastars of his generation.

What did he see while watching Raymond take this next step?

“I think that’s what can happen with a young player like that,” Kane told The Athletic in late March. “When you realize your abilities, you can understand you can start taking over games, right? And I think we’re seeing him at that point right now.”

Monday, he left no doubt.

And with one game left to play, the Red Wings are still very much alive.

(Photo: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)