As the regular season has come to an end, Last Word On Sports analyzes every playoff series. In the first installment, we take a look at the matchups in five categories: Offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and special teams. We also run down the players to look out for and give our final assessment on how the series will pan out. In the second portion, we will analyze what went down in the series, how the matchups led to the outcome and cover all important storylines.
In a matchup that was not expected to go past five games, the third place Red Wings and 2nd place Lightning provided something more in an epic Atlantic Division showdown. How about a series where each team did not win consecutive times through the first six games, setting up a winner-take-all game 7 at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay? There were many points in the series where one would say at the time “this is the turning point,” but momentum would never carry over. Let’s take a look at how the heavily favored Tampa Bay Lightning eventually captured the series in seven games.
Game 1: Red Wings 3, Lightning 2
The 46-14 shot total at the end of the game told the story of the first contest. If not for rookie goaltender Petr Mrazek, Detroit would not only lose this game, but would surely get blown out in the process by a Lightning team that held the title of the highest scoring group in the league. Pavel Datsyuk scored the first goal of the series, his third in the last six postseason games dating back to last year’s playoffs at the 09:03 mark of the first. Brian Boyle would light the lamp short-handed for Tampa Bay, tying the game before the first was out. Heading into the third period, the Wings were holding on to a one goal lead. At the 4:35 mark, the Wings went to the box for the 5th time in the game and were under siege. Grinder Luke Glendening would provide some breathing room however, with a short-handed spin-o-rama goal to make it 3-1 on that same penalty kill. Tampa Bay would get to within one but in the last offensive zone shift with 10 seconds left, the aforementioned Glendening blocked a shot heading for Mrazek and kicked the puck out of the zone, clinching the win and series lead for Detroit.
Game 2: Red Wings 1, Lightning 5
Ironically, the shots were pretty closer in this game at 30-24 in favor of the Lightning and the Wings themselves thought they played better, despite the score. However, as this series firmly confirmed, that’s hockey. Tyler Johnson would score his first goal of the series on the powerplay 3:05 in, and the Lightning would add on in the second. Goals by Alex Kilhorn, Andrej Sustr, and Johnson again ended up chasing Mrazek after two. He would end the night on the bench in the third, giving up four goals on 18 shots. Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop played extremely better compared to his Game 1 performance, stopping 23 shots out of Detroit’s 24. The Lightning would add one more and blow out Detroit on the scoreboard 5-1, tying the series heading back to Hockeytown.
Game 3: Lightning 0, Red Wings 3
With the Octopi flying and another postseason with Cup aspirations in the air, the Red Wings returned to Hockeytown feeling accomplished after a split against a team that won 32 games in the regular season at home. Building on their better play from Game 2, the Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk would break the ice again. Tipping a puck home cutting across the slot after a great give and go with Tomas Tatar, the Wings had a 1-0 lead 8:46 in. After a scoreless second, the Lightning were leading in shots 15-14 and were pressing. A powerplay goal from the second-best power play in the regular season nullified that, as Riley Sheahan finished a beautiful passing play from returning power forward Justin Abdelkader and Captain Henrik Zetterberg 6:42 into the third. Mrazek took over from there, negating any attempts the Lightning threw at him, and along with the Red Wing defense, the team gave up a series low 22 shots. An improvement from a combined 76 in Games 1 and 2. Luke Glendening would hit the empty net as Detroit would ice a 3-0 victory in Detroit. Mrazek was the first Detroit goaltender to pitch a shutout in his first career home postseason game since Chris Osgood in 1994. Steven Stamkos arguably played his worst game of his career, finishing with a 23% possession mark with two shots and a 44% faceoff ratio.
Game 4: Lightning 3, Red Wings 2, F/OT
Momentum looked to be carrying over for the first time in the series in this one for almost 55 minutes.
A scoreless first period signified the tightness of the game for both teams. The Lightning obviously did not want to go down three games to one and Detroit obviously did not want to have to win another game in Tampa Bay, let alone possibly two to win the series. In the second, it seemed like Detroit was taking ownership of the game. Gustav Nyquist got his first of the series as Zetterberg and Abdelkader set him up at the 5:42 mark. Then came a goal from the unlikeliest of the unlikely, knucklepuck expert Joakim Andersson. He fired a puck Bishop bobbled, tipped off of his stick and knocked into his own net. Detroit was up 2-0 in their building, and Joe Louis was deafening in the crowd chants. “BISH-OP, BISH-OP” was echoing throughout as the second period ended. Then came the “PE-TR, PE-TR” chants as Mrazek was denying the Lightning every which way in the third. The Wings were well on their way to a 3-1 series lead and clos—
Luke Glendening, matched up against Tyler Johnson through most of the series, left a late scrap in the third period with a “mangled hand” at the 12:32 mark. The “triplets line” struck shortly after. With Johnson and Ondrej Palat scoring 77 seconds apart, the Lightning tied the game at 2-2 and stun the “Octopied” crowd. Johnson would strike again in OT 2:25 in, as he finished a sweet pass dished by the active defenseman Victor Hedman moving up on the play in and odd man rush and the Lightning made it a whole new series with a 3-2 overtime decision.
Game 5: Red Wings 4, Lightning 0
Naturally, the Lightning would win this game and ride the momentum on home ice to a 3-2 series lead. Since momentum did not exist in this series, the complete opposite happened. Detroit backchecked like their lives depended on it, scored a late goal in the first period, and went from there. Riley Sheahan got the powerplay tally with 23 seconds left in the period, one-timing a pass from Niklas Kronwall inside the right faceoff circle. At the 15:46 mark of the next stanza, grinder and star penalty killer Drew Miller fired a rebound past Ben Bishop after a Luke Glendening shot into the pad from the far boards on the rush, making it 2-0. The Lightning have them right where they want them right? Wrong. This game was different, and all Detroit defensively and in the crease. Petr Mrazek would stop all 30 shots fired on goal for his second shutout of the series, becoming only the third rookie goaltender for Detroit to accomplish that feat in franchise history. The Wings would add a goal from Pavel Datsyuk, his third of the series, late in the third to clinch the victory and Danny Dekeyser would fire a long shot from his own zone into the empty net for good measure. Detroit was coming home with a chance to win the series and prove a lot of people wrong.
Game 6: Lightning 5, Red Wings 2
The series shifted back to the Motor City with the Wings looking to advance to play the Montreal Canadiens. The Lightning brought their best, however, spoiling the potential party. Tyler Johnson quieted the raucous crowd, scoring 3:47 in on a brilliant play up the middle of the ice by Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov. Johnson’s 5th of the series set the tone as Jason Garrison would capitalize on a bad change by Detroit as the late man coming, firing a puck past Mrazek’s glove and it was 2-0 halfway through the first period. The Lightning were the better team and played like the desperate team, grabbing a multi-goal lead for only the second time in the series. Brilliant saves by Peter Mrazek on Brian Boyle and Steven Stamkos in the second kept the Wings in range, but Tyler Johnson would strike yet again, speeding in and going glove side on Mrazek and making it 3-0 halfway through the second stanza. Before this goal, Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall attempted to lay a trademark “Kronwalling” on Nikita Kucherov but finished through the head, earning him a Game 7 suspension the next day. Tomas Tatar would get the next one for Detroit, finishing off a pass from Kronwall on the powerplay to make it 3-1 just over two minutes later. He would get another early on in the third as Detroit made it a hockey game again down just one goal. However, with Ben Bishop making key saves and the Lightning shutting down Detroit through the neutral zone, Detroit couldn’t buy the equalizer. Alex Kilhorn took the wind out of the sails with a breakaway goal going backhand high with 5:09 to play. In an almost perfect role reversal, the Lightning won game six 5-2 and forced it back to Amalie Arena for a Game 7.
Game 7: Red Wings 0, Lightning 2
The best two words in sports: Game 7. Plenty of childhood street hockey games used this scenario, and many NHL games have been termed classic with this setting in place. The setting was Tampa Bay, and the series 3-3. The best home team in the regular season earned the home ice from their 50-win season and were looking to advance after a series in which many predicted them to wrap it up in five games or less. But, with the beauty of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Red Wings made it as hard as could be, and came out firing in Game 7. Despite the score being 0-0 through two periods, Detroit was outshooting Tampa Bay 23-12 and were poised with all the experience they had to push across the first one. They didn’t capitalize, and 3:58 into the third, trade acquisition Braydon Coburn put a top shelf knucklepuck into the top left corner over Mrazek’s shoulder. It was 1-0 and, and the team that scored first in the previous six games ended up winning five of those six games. Grinding Detroit’s attack down, the minutes went by like seconds. With Mrazek pulled, Detroit entered the zone on a line change. Free agent acquisition Anton Stralman, arguably the best defenseman in the series, put a puck off the glass down the ice into the empty cage, icing the 2-0 win. Handshakes followed, and for the Lightning, the ticket was punched to play Game 1 at the Bell Centre. For Detroit, a summer of many questions began in an instant.
If someone told you that Steven Stamkos and Henrik Zetterberg would each go goalless and combine for five assists in seven games, what would be your reaction? It was true however for Stamkos, as the second-leading goal scorer in the regular season extended his playoff goal drought to nine games. Zetterberg, first on the Wings in points in the 2014-15 campaign, did not score a goal for the first time in 23 playoff series and the first time in a Game 7 since the 2009 Playoffs.
Tyler Johnson Leads The Way
The Tampa Bay Lightning scored 17 goals in this series. Six were by Tyler Johnson. The undrafted 24-year old used his diminutive size and lightning(no pun intended) speed to break away from Detroit defenders when he gained the zone. Simply put, when he had space, he was deadly, and when he scored, he scored at pivotal points in the game. Whether it be in the first few minutes in Games 2 and 6, or in the last few minutes in Game 4 to tie the game and eventually win it in the extra session, Johnson stepped up for the team in place of their struggling captain.
Momentum? What Momentum?
Until Game 7, no team won consecutively in the series. A prime example to sum up the series would be Games 4-6. With the Lightning winning in overtime in the fashion they did in Game 4, to come out and get absolutely dominated on home ice in Game 5 probably was the last thing anyone expected. In Game 6, it was a role reversal. It was just one of those series that in each win for each team it seemed like a different series for each. Even in Game 7, Detroit outshot Tampa Bay 31-17, but got shut out. It was just one of those unpredictable series that came down to a simple shot on goal that fluttered(See Braydon Coburn).
Detroit’s “Mragik” Between The Pipes
Petr Mrazek won the starting job from Jimmy Howard, who started every playoff series for Detroit since Game 1 of the 2010 Western Conference Quarterfinals. Simply put, his first taste of Stanley Cup Playoff action was nothing short of remarkable. Posting a 2.11 GAA and .925 save % along with two shutouts, he’s opened the door to many possibilities this summer for Detroit regarding their goaltending situation. Jimmy Howard played one period in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and will earn $6 million this season and $5.5 million the next. With Mrazek’s performance in the regular season and playoffs, will Detroit want to keep him around as a veteran influence, or move him while they can?
How could I leave this one out? The Red Wings have faced three first round exits in the past four seasons, and much has been made about the future of the 52-year old head coach. He declined to comment on his future after Game 7, hinting that he would “talk about that crap” on locker room clean out day. General Manager Ken Holland will be with Babcock talking about just that behind the scenes. With the Ilitch Family, money has not been an issue. Ultimately, it will be up to Babcock on what he wants to do for the present and foreseeable future.
Series Predictions from our Hockey Department:
Griffin Schroeder: Red Wings in 6
David Stevenson: Lightning in 5
Dave Gove: Lightning in 5
Markus Meyer: Lightning in 6
Charlie O’Connor Clarke: Lightning in 5
Ben Kerr: Lightning in 5
Tyler Shea: Red Wings in 6
Ken Hill: Lightning in 5