Today will be a preview of the series matching up the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Red Wings, the 2 and 3 seeds respectively in the Atlantic Division. We will be taking a look at the Lightning and Red Wings perspective in this article. I will be covering the Tampa Bay Lightning side and my colleague here at The Hockey Writers, Prashanth Iyer will be reporting on the Detroit Red Wings. Prashanth covers the Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers. Let’s take a look at these two teams.
The Tampa Bay Lightning had the highest scoring offense in the NHL this past season. They are very deep up front and arguably the fastest team in the National Hockey League. The team is tough to beat at home and had an NHL’s best record of 32-8-1 on home ice. Coach Jon Cooper did an amazing job this season with this group.
Cooper loves to coach this team and the team loves to play for their coach. Tampa Bay features three legitimate scoring lines that will be tough to contain for any opponent in this years’ Stanley Cup Playoffs. The projected lines for Tampa are Steven Stamkos centering rookie Jonathan Drouin and Alex Killorn if he can play in Game 1.
The second line is the highly regarded ‘Triplets Line’ of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov. This line is fast, plays a two-way game, and can score. The Tampa Bay 2nd line will be tough to stop for the Detroit Red Wings. It consists of super sophomores that are looking to take this team deep. The 3rd line has the experience and leadership of Valterri Filppula and Ryan Callahan with either rookie Cedric Paquette or Vladislav Namestnikov on the wing. This line is experience and will also be a threat to score some goals. Callahan will make a big impact in this series in my opinion with his grit, goal-scoring ability, and relentless play. The 4th line has Brian Boyle, Brendan Morrow, and then either JT Brown or Paquette/Namestnikov. This offense is potent, deep, and tough to stop.
If I had to summarize the Red Wings offense in one word it would be “diverse”. They finished 10th overall in goals for, boast the league’s 2nd best powerplay at 23.8%, and had eight different players score at least 12 goals. The old guard is there as team captain Henrik Zetterberg led the team in points with 66 and magician Pavel Datsyuk chipped in 26 goals and 65 points in 63 games.
The young guns are firing as Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist backed up their impressive campaigns from last season with 29 and 27 goals respectively.
If the Wings do have one Achilles heel, it is their 5-on-5 scoring where they ranked 21st in 5-on-5 goal scoring per game.
Tampa Bay is not a top 10 defensive team, but with their deep forwards that play a two-way game, and stellar goaltending, they can get away with it. Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman are the teams two star defenseman. The Swedes are the top pairing for Tampa Bay and are both excellent puck movers and solid in their own end of the ice.
This will be the shutdown pair for Tampa Bay. I believe Jon Cooper will look to match them up with Pavel Datsyuk for this series. The rest of the Bolts defense is banged up. Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr however might play in game 1. Matt Carle will be in the lineup for the Lightning as well. Jason Garrison’s status is uncertain for the first round. The team may have to look to young defenseman like Nikita Nesterov and Mark Barberio to play until the rest of the defense is healthy. There are no excuses however in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, or with injuries for that matter. The Detroit Red Wings certainly know a thing or two about injuries themselves, and the reality is that, as Mike Babcock taught us in last year’s 24/7, only the available players matter for the time being.
Entering the season, many felt that the Red Wings defensive group was the weak point of this team. They responded emphatically by shutting down the opposition, allowing the fewest shot attempts and scoring chances against at 5-on-5. Niklas Kronwall provided another strong offensive campaign with 44 points in 80 games and Danny DeKeyser came into his own as a defensive stalwart. The addition of Marek Zidlicky at the deadline has helped provided an added offensive punch from the blue line. However, the struggles of Jonathan Ericsson and Brendan Smith have become more publicized over the last couple of months, ultimately resulting in Smith’s benching in favor of rookie Alexey Marchenko. Can this young unit withstand the pressure?
Tampa Bay has their guy, Ben Bishop, healthy, rested, and ready to go. This will be Bishop’s first taste of playoff hockey and we will see if he is up to the task. All signs indicate that he will be as Bishop went 40-13-5 this season with a 2.23 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. The 6’7 Bishop will be tough to score on in this series. Another thing that Bishop does very well is play the puck which can help negate a forecheck.
Backing up Bishop will be 20-year-old super goalie prospect Andrei Vasilevsky. In his first NHL action this season Vasilevsky had a record of 7-5-1, a 2.36 goals against average, and .918 save percentage. Vasilevsky will be ready if needed.
If you asked me on January 1st, I’d say that Jimmy Howard belonged in the Vezina conversation. Fast forward to the playoffs and Howard finds himself on the bench watching 23-year old rookie Petr Mrazek. While Howard hasn’t exactly been stellar, Mrazek has posted fantastic numbers down the stretch. Since March 1st, Mrazek has posted a 2.01 GAA, a .936 SV%, and two shutouts, including one over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The shutout against the Lightning was the first time that Tampa has been shutout since April 2013. Mrazek is electric, dynamic, and confident beyond his years. Can he make up for his lack of playoff experience?
For all the offense the Lightning have their power play finished 14th in the NHL at a percent of 18.8%. The Steven Stamkos one-timer is their best option with the man-advantage. The Lightning have two power play units that can score. Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman had a solid season on the power play playing the point. The penalty kill was 9th in the NHL, a step forward from last year, with a success rate of 83.7%. Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan will be big parts of this unit in the playoffs.
At one point this season, the Wings owned a top-5 powerplay and a top-5 penalty kill. The penalty kill has dropped off dramatically, finishing the season at 80.9%, good for 17th. On the road, the penalty kill gets even worse as the Wings rank 25th. The powerplay on the other hand is extremely dynamic. While it has cooled off a little bit over the last month, the Wings still finished the season with the 2nd best powerplay while drawing the most powerplay opportunities.
Tampa Bay-Tyler Johnson
For this series, I believe the Lightning X-factor is 2nd line center Tyler Johnson. Johnson followed up an amazing rookie season with an even better 2nd year in the league. Johnson was tied for the team lead in points with Steven Stamkos this season. Johnson scored 29 goals, added 43 assists, for 72 points in 77 games.
He also had a plus/minus rating of +33. This guy is a leader and a winner, Johnson has won championships at pretty much every level of hockey before his NHL career. He won a Memorial Cup in Juniors playing for his hometown of Spokane, a World Junior Championship Gold Medal with Team USA in 2010, and a Calder Cup as Champions of the American Hockey League. Johnson hopes to add a Stanley Cup to his stellar hockey resume.
The Red Wings aren’t a very physical team and rely more on team speed. However, if there is one guy that can play smart, play physical, and contribute offensively, it’s Justin Abdelkader.
Abdelkader missed the last few games of the regular season with a hand injury and is uncertain for Game 1 at this point in time. However, if Abdelkader can return to his March form (10 goals in the month), he will be a key secondary scorer that Tampa will have to find a way to neutralize.
Tampa Bay Will Win If
They can roll their 4 lines consistently, stay out of the penalty box, and just play Tampa Bay Lighting hockey like they have been all season. This team is fast and has learned and matured from last year when they started several rookies in the playoffs.
— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithTB) April 15, 2015
Detroit Will Win If
Petr Mrazek continues to play at a high level and remains consistent, and the Wings get key secondary scoring contributions from Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader. Also if The Wings powerplay can continue to score at a high percentage.
READ: Tatar, Nyquist learn from past playoffs; Leading scorers grow from playing experience, ready for postseason – http://t.co/2sarshgFD2
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) April 14, 2015
Tampa Bay Lightning in 5 games. You have to respect the Detroit Red Wings organization and their 24th consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs is quite the accomplishment, but I believe the Lightning are just a better hockey team and get this done early in 5 games. The speed of the Lightning and their quick puck movement will be too much for the Red Wings to handle. Tampa Bay is too good to not advance.
Tampa in 6.